As stated in the introduction to this anthology, YA literature – although young in publishing years – has now fully arrived as a thriving and viable market, and Speculative Fiction in this age bracket, outstrips all other genres for popularity in Film and TV, as well as publishing. Year’s Best, edited by Krasnostein and Rios, celebrates a tremendous breadth of talent and creativity by YA authors. That they have a devoted and growing audience is, I hope, a sign that YA has dug itself in as an industry of the future.
This anthology comprises twenty-one short stories. While pushing the ‘short story’ boundary to encompass everything from flash fiction to novelette, editors Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein have kept a tight ship when it comes to their YA policy. I appreciated their definition (stated as ‘having teen protagonists and relating to teen lives’) given the broad spectrum that the YA classification has come to encompass. Not only does it make perfect sense, it also serves to keep the readership audience close, while still opening doors to different perspectives and experiences appropriate to that age group and mind set.
They have cast a wide net to arrive at this collection, and it’s by no means a cherry-pick from the biggest publishers. Traditional, electronic, and self-published authors are represented and hail from Great Britain, the USA, Europe, Asia, Ireland and Australia. The stories they have written range even further, many taking place in the author’s country of origin. This variety of location adds authenticity to a collection in which diversity of viewpoint is a key theme. The lead characters represent a wide variety of cultures, ethnicities, socio-economic groups, religions, and sexual orientations; and also, because this is Speculative Fiction after all, supernatural, super and quasi-human, and extra-terrestrial.
Although dystopian YA was still the hot ticket in 2013, there is a well-rounded selection of genres and sub-genres here (including a few dystopias, for those of us who are only happy when it rains).
The stories are pitch-perfect as you would expect, given the editors’ guidelines, and you won’t find any cross-over confusion or discomfort. As stated, these are written for teenagers and deal with teen issues and motivations – good, bad, uncomfortable and, most importantly, real. I particularly liked ‘What We Ourselves Are Not’, by Leah Cypess and ‘Persimmon, Teeth, And Boys’, by Steve Berman as examples of this point. Most of the stories contain a subtext relating to, or serving as metaphors for, issues common to this transitional period into adulthood. But these guys do it in style with werewolves, cyborgs, vigilantes, superpowers, and ghosts.
The protagonists take on epic quests, awkward truths, harsh realities, dreams of the future, failed experiments, monstrous desires, and – most confronting of all – their own potential for triumph, failure, good, and evil. These are the modern day folk stories and fairy tales – the monster in the woods, the wolf in granny’s clothing, the dark nature within – complete with morals, cautionary predictions and deft commentaries of human nature. They are thought-provoking, sometimes shocking, and heartfelt. We should give thanks that there are writers who care enough about the adults of the future to craft tales that speak to generations increasingly bereft of guidance. ‘Mah Song’ by Joanne Anderton was a standout for me as a chilling tale of human nature and the origins of religion and civilisation.
The wealth of themes and mood in these stories – funny, grim, poignant, reflective, and brimming with energy – represent the ever-changing emotions characteristic of the teen years. Some of the stories are so delicate and introspective that they seem to inhabit the moment from one breath to the next. Some burst outwards like the pages of a graphic novel. I think that every reader, though, will find a moment in at least one that will ignite a spark of recognition – a moment of ‘I know exactly how that feels.’
I often caught myself imagining reading this at age fifteen. How would it have changed my view of my own destiny? I imagine having some of these characters to identify with and worlds of possibility opening up to me. This is the beauty of Speculative Fiction stories written for this age group. They grow the imagination like nothing else and lend support to the creation of personal identity.
There is so much to engage, identify with, and entertain in this book that I find it difficult to do it justice in one review. I want to delve into each of the stories and discuss the intricacies, expose the wisdom, and talk at length about the clever use of symbolism and wry humour. But that is for you to discover and appreciate. And I hope that you do.
PURCHASE YEAR’S BEST from Twelfth Planet Press