Thursday, September 25, 2014

"Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories," edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios

The recent debate around #WeNeedDiverseBooks highlighted the great shortage of - and hunger for - novels that speak to and from the experiences of writers of color, women writers, LGBTQI writers, differently-abled folks, and other voices outside the mainstream narrative.

And while it's true that mainstream publishing still has a diversity problem (which some folks frame as a white supremacy problem), it's also true that there are a ton of amazing diverse books and stories being written and published and celebrated.

Case in point: Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories.  This anthology highlights twenty stories that are creepy, funny, edgy, entertaining, and thought-provoking. There's all kinds of dazzling diversity on display here: the authors are diverse, the speculative concepts are diverse (stories about drugs that let you see the future, and ancient deities giving life lessons, and superpowers, and urban legends gone wrong) and the settings for the stories are diverse (Palestine, China, New Jersey).

As with any short story collection, different readers will connect with different stories. Some of my own personal favorites:
  • "Krishna Blue," by Shveta Thakrar, which uses a fresh and exciting speculative concept to explore the wonders - and challenges - of living a creative life in a world that wants to put you in a box, building to a startling and horrifying climax. "Quick and sharp as a bee sting, pure green seeped into her. She saw moss, she tasted cilantro. The hollow place in her claimed it all."
  • Amal El-Mohtar's "The Truth About Owls" uses achingly beautiful language to root us in the emotional life of a young woman struggling with the trauma of loved ones living under bombardment, and the trauma of adapting to a new school, and the traumatic difficulties of learning how to speak Owl. "The summer Anisa saw the owl kill the rooster was the summer Israel bombed the country. She always thinks of it that way, not as a war - she doesn't remember a war. She never saw anyone fighting. She remembers a sound she felt more than heard, a thud that shook the earth and rattled up through her bones..." 
  • ... but it's Sofia Samatar's "Walkdog" that walks away with the anthology, using the format of a
    high school term paper - complete with pitch-perfect structural clumsiness and spelling mistakes and typographical errors - to tell a story that effortlessly moves from laugh-out-loud funny to deeply moving,  "Now for the habits of Walkdog. These habits are not what you would call nice. Walkdog steals kids (another name for it is The Child Thief). It does not steal them to eat, as stated above, it eats fish and excrament mainly, but it steals them at night, and it takes them for walks. It takes them for walks."
Young men from all backgrounds will find something that speaks to them in the pages of this important, amazing collection, although I'd wager that young men who aren't white and straight will draw even more strength and power from its marvelous stories. Highly Recommended. 

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