A Fanfarade for YA Fantasy!

I’ve been fast and furiously reading a ton of YA novels, and there are two very distinct fantasy novels that have passed through my hands.  Here’s a short review of two of them:

34275232The Hazelwood by Melissa Albert  Flatiron Books, 2018

Alice is used to her quirky life with her mom.  Constantly moving, she has never really created roots.  But then her mother stops moving and finally Alice can take a breath, even though she must share her breathing room with a new family.

Alice never really knew anyone in her family, but she knows of them, especially her famous grandmother, who lives at the Hazelwood and is world famous for the only book she wrote: Tales from the Hinterland.  And now, Alice will need that book in order to find and rescue her mother….

This book isn’t any old and ordinary fairy tale book.  The tales spun in them are dark, brooding and dangerous, with the main characters in each tale more than likely to do harm than grant wishes.  She enlists the help of Ellery, a friend from school, to track down not only this dark and dangerous book, but to find the Hazelwood…

Only to find herself alone in the Hinterlands, coming face to face with the nightmare terrors the book describes….rescue or escape is now a possibility, not a fact…

Some may call this fantasy, while others may call it magical realism.  Whatever genre or sub-genre you call it, it’s still a great read that can definitely cross over beyond teens to adults.  Albert weaves a provocative tale that splits the real world the characters live in with the equally real world the others make a home. If your readers enjoyed Ransom Riggs Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, they will definitely enjoy this! Recommended for 9-12 grades.



Furyborn by Claire Legrand Sourcefire Books, 2018

Welcome to the world of Avitas, where wars for power and dominance take place.  Humans have finally, after years of bloody battle against angels, thwarted them behind powerful magic.  But that magic is slowly disintegrating….

Rielle has lived in the kingdom of Celdaria all of her life.  An appointed outcast by her father, she can be a threat to others with the power she possesses.  But harnessing fire is the only one that she is aware of.  It isn’t until assassins try to kill Celdaria’s prince, that her other latent powers come to the surface.  Now she must pass seven tests against her powers to be crowned queen, or die trying to establish the power she possessed.

A thousand years later, angels have begun to escape.  They invade human form and are now propelling their Undying Empire across the Great Ocean to Ventera, where Eliana lives.  Known as the Dread of Orline, Eliana lives for the hunt…and the kill. When girls and women in her town and nearby start to unpredictably vanish, Eliana’s focus is now to find her mother, with the help of a rebel leader, who remains mysterious and infuriating.

But what she and Simon uncover is far beyond her reckoning or imagination….

What a powerful first book in a series for this author!  She takes angels and makes them devils and the reader gets caught up in the magic of two different times in the same fantastical world.  Each chapter is told alternately by both strong female characters and soon the reader understands just how intricate and closely threaded Rielle and Eliana are.  Two queens, one prophecy.  This is an amazing fantasy for high school readers due to intimate relationships between the characters.  Recommended 9-12 grades.

BONUS:  Two different book trailers featuring both characters were created by the publisher.  This trailer describes the sun queen  while this second trailer describes the blood queen


Get Over Your Fear of Fantasy by Jackie Son

Fantasy readsFor years, I have been an avid reader of realistic/ contemporary fiction. In fact, it’s pretty much all I read while growing up (save for the occasional historical fiction title that sneaked in or the classics I was given in high school English).

When we created genres for our library this year, I noticed that Realistic Fiction had met its match with Fantasy; shelf space is taking a nose dive. Not that I’m complaining, but I just couldn’t understand what the hype was all about.

I decided to go to the experts…teenagers. I am now in full-fangirl mode for fantasy. I recently realized (while stalking the shelves at Barnes and Noble) that there’s a reason I’ve historically stayed away from fantasy: have you SEEN the size of those books?! Not to mention that there are rows and rows of this genre (so many rows). It’s hard to know where to start… especially when the covers can look so similar (*insert a fierce protagonist on a dark cover, probably navy blue, hunter green, or black*). But change is good, and I’ve gotten into so many reading slumps, and I have found one of the best ways to break out of one is to break tradition. So, without further ado, here are my tips for diving into the wonderful world of fantasy!

1.) I Hear You:

If possible, try to get your hands on a physical copy AND the audiobook of your chosen title. If your school library doesn’t have Overdrive, your public library might. It’s definitely a more economical way to acquire audiobooks, but I’m also a fan of Audible (if it’s in your price range).

Here’s why: a lot of what happens at the beginning of a fantasy novel sets the reader up for: a.) world building and b.) a magic system. If you’ve never read fantasy and you start with a high-fantasy read, an audiobook can help (provided the narrator’s voice works for you) you get started. Hearing someone’s tone and inflection in those first few chapters gives you a baseline for the world, and it also clues you in to what might be important later.

2.) Split the Difference:

What I mean by this is…try a book that takes place in the real world and a different one. Think about it. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe start with the children leaving their city home for a countryside escape in the midst of WWII. Within no time, you’re in Narnia. Finding an entry point that’s in your comfort zone is what makes exploring fun.

3.) We’d Love to Double Date! 

Don’t fret if you start feeling a little overwhelmed (sometimes in the best way) with your fantasy read. Sometimes you just need a break. I recently started reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and this book… is an epic (literally) read and halfway through, I just needed a break! I picked up a book that (I thought) was completely different from TNotW, but you’d be surprised how fast you start to see parallels. I picked up The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, because what could be more antithetical to a high-fantasy read than a story about a glamorous Hollywood star from the 1950’s?!

Not. Much.

Both of these stories involve living legends whose life stories have remained elusive and borderline infamous over time. Their secrets would be lost, were it not for them telling their stories to a biographer (chronicler) throughout the entire book. The main characters are clever, cutthroat, unapologetic, and fiercely dedicated to telling the truth. I finished the latter title with a resurgence of excitement to dive back into Rothfuss’s opus.

4.) Safety in Numbers

The fantasy genre lends itself to series. It’s just the way it is; I don’t make the rules. And I can tell you this: if you spend that much time investing yourself into another world, with complex characters, and an incredible magic system (hello, Harry Potter), you will want more. Finding the right series and the right authors is almost another blog post entirely, but if you do your homework/ take a chance and find a series you enjoy, this will continuously challenge your conceptual, concrete limitations. Bottom line: the more time you spend in a variety of  worlds, the more comfortable you’ll be when you encounter a new one.

5.) The Kids Are Alright:

When I told my students that I was interested in trying fantasy, they were all-too eager to suggest titles. But, as anyone knows, you only get to make a first impression once. My students deliberated for days about my new TBR pile. They crafted only their favorites (“but nothing too crazy otherwise she’ll hate it”). They worked and worked on their list for me, and when it was all said and done, they not only had some of the best books I’ve read in a long time on the list, but they were excited to talk to me about it when I finished.

When I check out books to kids that I’ve really enjoyed, I make them promise to come talk to me about the book when they finish. This was some major role reversal… but I didn’t hate it. I came to work for a week D-Y-I-N-G to talk about The Raven Cycle with two of the girls who recommended it. Every day they’d rush into my office and I’d explode with, “I can’t even with Blue and Gansey! What is going to happen?!!!” They would grin and say, “I don’t know. Guess you’ll have to keep reading.” And then they’d skip off to calculus, proud of themselves for creating yet another fan.

It was so wonderfully frustrating. I was being book-talked to by seniors, but that has always been my dream. Talking to kids about books is one thing, talking with kids about books is another.

My students have loved creating TBR (to be read) piles for me, which is wonderful. It’s yielded student voice, collaboration, relationship building, book talking, gushing, “shipping” our very favorite characters, and hating the ones who are “literally THE WORST, Ms. Son”. But I think (for me) the best part has been how organic the whole experience has been, and it all stemmed just from me asking what they thought. There is value in being heard.

Don’t believe me? Ask them.