Tag Archives: young adult fiction

Book Review: All the Birds in the Sky

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Book Review: All the Birds in the Sky

Introduction

This debut novel by first time published novelist, Charlie Jane Anders, won the Nebula award and offers a refreshing combination of all my favourite things. Sci-fi, fantasy, new World and is on the fringe of the young adult/new adult boundary, with a just the right amount of raunchiness thrown in.

Author

Charlie Jane Anders – is a debut novelist and (in my opinion) an accomplished sci-fi and fantasy writer and editor of io9, with the most awesome sense of style.

Main characters

Protagonist One

Patricia – discovers she’s a witch when she’s a child. Has a ‘fey’ and dreamy air about her. Connected to nature and her intuition. In some ways, a stereotypical female character. In others, a strong ‘feminist’ on a mission to save the World. She fulfills the fantasy criteria of the novel.

Protagonist Two

Laurence – an uber-geek who learns to dabble with time and artificial intelligence as a kid to avoid the bullies and have a friend, he also sneaks out of school to go and see a rocket but time changes him more than he changes time.

Story

I do love a bit of ‘end-of-the-world’ angst and this novel certainly delivered on that. Childhood friends Patricia and Laurence are drawn together through a combination of circumstances and a rather tragic outlook on life. After being separated during high school, they are reunited once again through a series of events leading up to the inevitable end-of-the-world scenario. And without giving the game away, it is up to them to save the day, can they?

Themes

This is a wonderful blend of sci-fi, fantasy, on the cusp of the young-adult/new adult boundary and new world discoveries; with a good bit of romance, crime and thriller thrown in all for good measure.

Evaluation

I absolutely fell in love with part one of the novel. The development of Patricia and Laurence as children was a beautiful, albeit traumatic, tale told in a way that was authentic and honoured the overall purpose of the plot. The development of the relationship between Patricia and Laurence portrayed the balance between its fragility and necessity in a way that was realistic and humbling. I found myself identifying with different aspects of myself in both characters, making them realistic and likeable. Equally, I could feel the frustration and tension between them building as they inevitably grew apart.

I think because I was so built up by part one, I have to admit that I don’t think part two delivered quite as much, perhaps this was the author’s intention, but I did feel it left me chasing the proverbial literary high. I don’t deny, Anders writing style lights a real magic spark for me in literary terms and this novel is well written throughout. Unlike some of the sci-fi and fantasy genre, the literary aspect isn’t compromised, but this part left me feeling a little flat.

What I did enjoy, is reading about the development of the sci-fi and fantasy aspects of the two characters. Following their journey’s and reading about magic really lights up my imagination and this was no exception. The sci-fi elements (no pun intended) got my creative juices flowing as the possibilities unravelled and Anders built this glorious world around the inevitable inter-twining of these two lost and likeable characters.

As I have a passion for all things sci-fi and fantasy and tales about youthful characters and childhood experiences, I was expecting a lot from this novel and I wasn’t disappointed. This novel delivered a brilliant balance of sci-fi and fantasy that delighted my inner geek. It is full of apocalyptic irony throughout and a delight to the imaginative spark in us all.

It appears that my opinions are shared, as can be gleaned from other All the Birds in the Sky Book reviews. And I am eagerly anticipating Anders next novel!

 

Rating

 

4.5/5

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The role of mental health and the responsibility of the author in young adult fiction

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The role of mental health and the responsibility of the author in young adult fiction

I recently attended a workshop hosted by Tom Harris, author of The Amber Room, The Amber Antidote and the forthcoming Wings, Wands and Weird Worlds series, and Hannah Morton, ambassador for Time To Change campaign which took place on Wednesday 7th June at The Spring, Havant. Both Tom and Hannah work for The University of Portsmouth’s Student Union and as such have become increasingly aware of the importance of the student voice for everything. This led them to feeling it necessary to address issues surrounding mental health in literature for young people. As a researcher at the University’s School of Education and Childhood studies, I am also very aware of the importance of this and especially the role it plays in the protection of mental health and wellbeing of children and young people.

This translates to the use of language for the YA author. To quote Hannah’s opening slide: “The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.” As someone who is researching the development of mental health from the Victorian era to the present day, I find this both fascinating and alarming. Books being written that begin to deal with the turmoil of mental health in childhood and education are becoming ever more prevalent and popular in modern young adult literature but do they deal with the issues sensitively and sympathetically? There are certainly many authors that do but I still feel there are several examples of authors who do not necessarily focus on mental health and wellbeing that can carelessly use language that can cause internalisations that have a serious impact on children’s and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. I am not going to ‘name and shame’ as it were, but a few examples are as follows:

“You’re mental”

“Cheer up, it might never happen,”

“I need my room to be clean, I’m so OCD,”

“Why do you look so depressed, have you forgotten how to smile?”

As expressed by Tom and Hannah, I think it is really important to bear in mind the way words and language are used to convey certain ideologies and expressions. Terminology is especially important as we try to work towards greater acceptance and equality in this world. Children may, for example, come across terminology used by authors that they wouldn’t necessarily encounter and then translate this in to their own everyday use of language thinking this is OK, when in fact, it is exacerbating the situation of inappropriate use of language, this in turn could impact the reader and/or their peers in terms of their self-perception, confidence and overall wellbeing. The initiation of unhealthy thought processes and responses could be triggered by simply not feeling enough, when that was not necessarily intended. For example, “you’re so gay,” used in a negative connotation, or, “You’re far too sensitive,” such seemingly innocent phrases have a plethora of connotations that indicate to the young person that there is something “wrong” with them and that they will be judged for this.

What is interesting is that many of these phrases were originally coined as medical terminology; for example, idiot, imbecile and lunatic were used during the late 1800s to describe people expressing particular behavioural traits. The word spastic was first used in a medical context to describe people with the condition, cereberal palsy. It was only later that these words were adopted as insults as language evolved, as its nature. For that reason, it is essential to ensure that we, as authors, evolve with it so that our use of language parallels the generation(s) that we are writing for. Some suggestions for swapping some of the following expressions and phrases to more ‘mental health promoting’ ones could be as follows:

“s/he was feeling down/sad/upset” instead of depressed.

“Oh that’s alarming!” instead of mental/crazy

“S/he is a psycho,” instead say, “this person suffers with [the illness].” Or, “s/he has been diagnosed with [the condition].

“You’re so bi-polar,” or, “s/he’s got such a split personality,” or, “s/he’s such a moody . . .” these phrases should not be used to describe someone who is indecisive, of two minds or experiencing severe mood swings. If someone you know is exhibiting such symptoms, do not be off with them, instead ask them, “Are you OK?” You may perceive them as being ‘moody’ or ‘off’ towards you when they are in fact experiencing severe inner turmoil and require support or someone to ‘lend an ear’ to listen.