Still working on the WisCon 31 panel reports. Slowly but surely!
The next panel I attended on Saturday was “Everything I Needed to Know About Feminism I Learned from YA”:
Young Adult fiction is full of strong female heroines who are a 14-year-old girl’s version of a superhero. They kick ass, wield magic, stand up to boys/men/school/society, and always save the day. Where does YA get the gender politics right? Where does it often fall short? How are contemporary YA authors pushing the tough heroine archetype in new directions, and where would we still like to see her go?
The panel was moderated by Sharyn November, and featured Ellen Kushner, Kelly D. Link, Meghan McCarron and Micole Iris Sudberg. It was a very well-attended panel, and the sound in the room was not super-fabulous. I took notes as best I could, but I’m afraid that they’re somewhat incomplete.
The panelists all introduced themselves, and made opening remarks. While discussing the enduring popularity of YA fiction amongst adult readers, Micole Iris Sudberg talked about the “porous barriers” between the two classifications. Sharyn November observed that YA can be defined as “what a teenager reads,” meaning that it often includes books that appeal to – or were originally intended for – an older audience, as well. Later on, November also talked about how interesting it is to re-read books that she really enjoyed when she was in the YA demographic from a new, presumably more experienced and mature perspective, to see how her feelings change and what new things she discovers in the book.
Sudberg brought up the idea that what had attracted her to speculative YA fiction when she was, herself, in the YA demographic was that it seemed to her that it was more diverse than mainstream YA fiction, or anything she saw on television. A little later on in the conversation, Ellen Kushner connected back up with this idea, talking about how important it is for readers to be able to identify with characters who are not like themselves. She specified that she was talking about more than just gender – that it’s important for readers to read about main characters of differing religions, races, etc. November agreed, saying that it’s important to be able to experience books as both mirrors and windows – there should be enough diversity in YA fiction for readers to see themselves reflected in main characters, and also for them to identify with main characters unlike themselves.
The panelists all seemed to agree that they’d like to see YA science fiction and fantasy continuing to become more and more diverse. Another thing that many people in the room seemed to agree would be good was Meghan McCarron’s wish to see more stories featuring female characters who use teamwork, rather than stories about exceptionalism.
All of this discussion was interspersed with recommendations for good YA novels, from panelists and audience members alike. I wrote down as many as I could, and will finish this panel report by including a list.
Generally recommended authors included:
Patricia C. Wrede
Particularly recommended books included:
Flora Segunda by Ysabeau S. Wilce
The Privilege of the Sword and The Golden Dreydl by Ellen Kushner
The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman (I can’t remember who suggested this one, but whoever it was also said, “stop there.”)
Un Lun Dun by China Miéville
Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin
It wouldn’t be WisCon if there wasn’t a long list of books to be read by the end!
I know that many of the regulars around here are big YA fans – what authors and books would you add to the recommended list?