What Makes Great Young Adult Fiction? by Sam Hawksmoor
The world isn’t perfect. You learn this the first time you hear the word ‘no’ and more bad luck for you if all you ever hear is ‘yes’, because you’ll never develop self-discipline and if you never develop self-discipline you never develop self-worth. This is an unfashionable view but that doesn’t mean that it is wrong). Great Young Adult (YA) fiction is quite often about young kids who for one reason or another rate their ability to make a difference, if only they are given a chance. I’m not really talking about heroes – more often than not it’s about kids who know their weaknesses and have to raise their game or take decisions on their own for the first time. Take the fantastic and much neglected The Droughtlanders by Carrie Mac. (Aside from the fact that it is criminal you can’t easily buy this outside of Canada, this is one of the most inspiring openings to a trilogy you’ll ever read).
The Droughtlanders gets to grips with climate change, revolutionary politics, regime change, circuses, cowardice and the terrible price of jealousy and revenge. Carrie Mac must have once had an awful time with a brother or sister to understand just how competitive and harsh brothers and sisters, especially twins can be to each other. Here we have twin brothers (in a Romulus and Remus situation) Seth and Eli, one all gung-ho for violence, guided by an evil father who rules the Keylanders (outside the city walls) with an iron fist, the other brother is painted as a coward who deplores violence, worships his scientist mother, who works on crops and making things grow. Little do either brother realise that their mother is in fact working for a Droughtlander terror organisation that wants to bring down this cruel regime.
Outside the city walls a disfiguring disease runs rampant and anyone who has it is shunned. Their state controls the weather and has stolen the rain from the rest and impoverished millions. The mother is blown up by the father, the Eli runs to the outside, the Seth pursues, vowing to crush any rebellion and kill his brother if he has to. But they have another relative – a sister they weren’t aware of… and she is working the other side. Within the text you discover the outside world riddled with poverty and disease and bravely, for YA fiction, sex and the consequences of sex; babies. Babies brought into a warzone. Carrie Mac does not shirk from dirt, sickness sheer folly and manages a giant cast with consumate skill. She also displays a fantastic knowledge of circus life and Cirque du Soleil in particular, which again marks out her fiction as totally unique. Do all you can to find these books.
The Triskelia trilogy works because it mines age-old themes but addresses contemporary issues in an engaging, electrifying way. It’s simply a damned exciting read that doesn’t shy away from the consequences of violence or sex.
This is why I read YA fiction.
Sam Hawksmoor’s author website: www.samhawksmoor.com
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