The New Breed: Multiculturalism and Young Adult Fantasy/Speculative Fiction

I love science fiction. Or, perhaps to be more accurate, I enjoy more speculative fiction and fantasy, rather than traditional sci-fi. Ever since I picked up Wildseed by Octavia Butler and Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey when I was much younger, I was fascinated by other worlds–worlds that were very similar to the one in which I lived. Back then, there were zero authors of African descent in the spec fic/fantasy genre of which I knew, and definitely no females of color. As for the Young Adult category, that fiction subgenre was laced with tales of losing virginity, getting a first menstrual cycle, first love (or at least, first intense crush), and the like. The protagonists were always human, and predominately white (not that this had any bearing on the stories, which were still relevant to my life experiences in a general way).  Likewise, authors of such were very light on authors of color, particularly females of color.

This started changing over the years, as authors like Walter Dean Myers  and Sofia Quintero (under the pen name Black Artemis) wrote young adult books that tackled stronger subjects more relevant to persons of color and women of color (e.g., juvenile incarceration;, the intersection of race, ethnicity, sex, and socioeconomics; HIV; the underbelly of the music industry). While good reading, these books were still considered under the auspices of mainstream Young Adult fiction. Then came the explosion of supernatural teen angst fantasy sagas such as the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer (which I read and enjoyed), and the copycats it spawned (e.g., Vampire Diaries). Still, for all these book’s popularity, characters of color were still relatively scarce (even in the TV and movie adaptations). Not to mention, romantic relationships were still coupled by race and ethnicity.

Now? ‘Tis a new day.

Authors of color are trailblazing in a teen fantasy multicultural world, which is more reflective of the society in which we live. Two such authors are Jaime Reed (Chronicles of Cambion series) and Cerece Murphy  (Order of the Seers series). That these are two females making their mark in a traditionally male subgenre is just gravy.

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Jaime Reed came on the scene in 2011 with her popular debut novel, Living Violet. This book featured protagonist Samara Mitchell, a biracial senior (Black father, White mother) in a Virginia high school who falls in love with Caleb, her White boyfriend who is a Cambion–a being possessed by a demon. The last two books in the trilogy —  Burning Emerald and Fading Amber–follow Sam and Caleb’s relationship as Samara is inhabited by her own demon, and Caleb’s dysfunctional, demon-possessed family (and their enemies) make their presence known in Samara’s world. Samara also has to contend with her own high school foibles (including a part-time job that brings her into contact with very interesting people) and her father’s second marriage–which includes a jealous stepmother and the children borne of their union.

 

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Order of the Seers by Cerece Murphy is an entertaining twist on psychic powers and global politics. It follows Liam and his sister, Lily, after they stumble across the violent death of their mother. While the siblings flee for their lives from a shadowy conglomerate called The Order,  Lily and Liam discover that Lily’s strong psychic powers were inherited from their mother, who was also a Seer. She guides them from beyond the grave to a group of fellow outcasts on a rural farm where Eli, the scientist who was best friends with Liam and Lily’s deceased father, lives. From there, they are able to join forces with other powerful Seers and take down The Order –or so they think. The Red Order picks up where Order of the Seers ended, with the group mourning the loss of one of the most powerful Seers in the world, and their sworn vengeance on The Order. The Red Order also further explores the soul mate relationship between Lily and Joel, the son of the dead Seer. The final installment in the series, The Last Seer, will be out later this year.

Having grown up during a time, a few decades ago, where racial demarcations were predominately black and white (literally and figuratively), it is refreshing to see that literature has kept up with the times–especially literature that is not mainstream fiction. The cast of multicultural characters in each book — and Murphy’s series had a veritable United Nations — is a reflection of our current society. That racial and ethnic diversity are apparent in Reed’s books are not surprising, given that she seems to be straddling the border between Generation X (my generation) and the Millennials (current generation), and the Millennials are all about inclusiveness and “post-racism”. Murphy may be closer to the Gen X camp, but she is still of an age where “Ebony and Ivory” is more of a life concept than an old Stevie Wonder & Paul McCartney song. I am also pleased to see that both authors are able to capture the teen angst and annoyances that are hallmarks of adolescence and high school years.

Reed and Murphy are following in the footsteps of Tananarive Due, who displayed obvious multicultural diversity in her Living Blood novels (My Soul to Keep, The Living Blood, Blood Colony, My Soul to Take). I am quite pleased that the Young Adult torch has been passed to them; they will keep it burning bright.

Thanks for stopping by.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Cerece Rennie Murphy
    May 28, 2014 @ 22:28:05

    Wow! Thank you so much for your kind words, Tiffany. And BTW -you do a mean book summary. Oh and I’m old enough to remember when “Ebony and Ivory” came out. I might have watched the video premiere on MTV. 🙂

    Like

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