Today’s post comes from PhD candidate Anthony Stepniak. Anthony is researching the “wicked queen” figure in contemporary narratives. His list reflects his academic interests alongside personal ones.
My Top 10 YA Reads:
In keeping with my research interests in contemporary fairytale retellings and representations of the Wicked Queen in such narratives, my YA top 10 consists of many Snow White reworkings. Alongside this I am an avid reader of LGBTQIA+ YA, meeting with the rest of my research area –namely gender studies and representation and Queer theory.
1 – The Art of Being Normal (2015) by Lisa Williamson: The only book I have ever read cover to cover in one sitting. Williamson provides an emotive narrative of a couple of young Transgender friends. At differing transition stages, both find companionship through tough upbringings, school bullies, and broken families. Personally, the detail in which the loneliness of the character David is portrayed is heartwarming to anyone who has kept a secret about their identity and been made to feel different.
2 – Fairest of All (2009) by Serena Valentino: My favorite of all the Snow White YA reworking’s I have read, Valentino as part of her Disney Villain series, provides the back story of Disney’s rendition of the Wicked Queen. A controlling cruel mirror-maker father provides the foundation for the story of the Wicked Queen we know so well. Binaries of Villain/Hero, Good/Bad and Victim/Perpetrator are blurred as Valentino makes the reader reevaluate if anyone is truly wicked.
3 – Openly Straight (2013) by Bill Konigsberg: A clever novel which deals with sexuality concealment in an atypical fashion. Openly gay Rafe decides to go back in the closet when he moves to a new boarding school as he is sick of being accepted but only known for his sexuality – but things get complicated when he falls for classmate Ben. The novel deals with issues of identity and the cultural representation of sexual orientation.
4 – The Goldfish Boy (2017) by Lisa Thompson: This touching YA detective style novel tactfully introduces Matthew who is suffering with OCD. Touchingly the reader discovers his problem long before Matthew does as we join his journey to discovering why he must act on the compulsions he does. The symptoms of this crippling disorder are explicated wonderfully to an audience who might not understand the severity of the illness and through a protagonist who doesn’t know what is happening to him.
5 – Fairest: Levana’s Story – The Lunar Chronicles (2015) by Marissa Meyer: Part of Marissa Meyer’s bestselling collection The Lunar Chronicles, Fairest tells Wicked Queen Levana’s story. Fitting into the current trend in fairy tales to retell from the villain’s perspective and simultaneously provide the villain with their own narrative, Meyer provides a backstory of complicated sibling relationships, Western beauty ideals and fairy tale character archetypes all tie into a narrative which shows how the ‘Ugly Sister’ become the ‘Wicked Queen’.
6 – Wonder (2012) by R.J. Palacio: This touching novel follows Auggie – a 10-year-old boy with severe birth defects who, after years of homeschooling, attends public school for the first. Tolerance, marginalization, and friendship across cultural boundaries are explored in this highly educational novel which deals with the effect our outer self can have on our internal identity. Wonder is being made into a film starring Julia Roberts which is released in December 2017 – so watch this space!
7 – Two Boys Kissing (2013) by David Levithan: A vitally important Gay YA text, told across multiple narratives, young adult readers are educated about the reality for homosexual people post the Stonewall riots and the work that is still needed to be done. Acceptance, coming-out, and equality activism are candidly engaged within a novel where two characters’ lives change forever – while they partake in the world’s longest kiss.
8 – Noah Can’t Even (2017) by Simon James Green: Embarrassing Mums, absent fathers, unwell grandmothers and a best friend who is in love with him is enough to make Noah seem his life is turning upside down. Among the chaos and acceptance of changes on many levels comes a narrative of sexual identity aside from culturally constructed labels and more related to feelings, friends, and love.
9 – We Are All Made of Molecules (2015) By Susin Nielsen: Three major themes are dealt in this lively novel. First is the adjustment when you develop a step parent and siblings and the anger, tension, – but also joy this can generate. Secondly, a patent who comes out as gay and acquires a new boyfriend, and the awkwardness this can generate for the teenage child and finally the devastation of losing a parent as a young child. Hard hitting stuff engulfed in in a quirky comedic narrative with a wonderful ending.
10 – Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda (2015) By Becky Albertalli: Taking on the perils of online communication and dating in relation to the practice of Catfishing and digital identity, Albertalli confronts blackmail, exposure and the sometimes frustration of falling in love with someone you can’t see – especially in Simon’s case when you don’t want anyone else to know but suddenly a classmate is blackmailing him over his online, faceless boyfriend.