As I’ve said often before, the greatest thing speculative fiction can do is use the fantastic to cast light on difficult parts of the human experience.
And here are two YA authors who do that by using familiar tropes of fey and bargains and ghosts.
Sarah Beth Durst:
I came upon her book, Ice, quite by accident and was immediately pulled into a frozen world both physically and emotionally, and greatly enjoyed the delicately painful thawing out process the heroine endures.
What sets Durst’s work apart in my mind is that she pulls off that difficult balance of casting quite adult themes (love, loss, grieving, sacrifice) into YA books that make them bearable and approachable for young readers while maintaining the greater depth of complication and emotion adults need.
And the writing is lovely and imaginative, and on occasion, quite funny. There’s a kind of mad charm to Drink, Slay, Love’s vampire heroine.
Both Goodreads and Amazon have been recommending Brenna Yovanoff’s The Replacement to me based on my reading shelf for ages. I finally read it. And then I went out and got Paper Valentine as well and devoured that one overnight.
Where Durst puts a lovely, naive shimmer on dark themes, Yovanoff grabs awfulness by the ears and butts your head up against it.
Her protagonists are floundering in loss, simmering with angst, and slowly, slowly learning how to live with broken-ness.
There is no white-washing or delicate phrasing here. There is pyschopathic taking of life, evil for evil’s sake, unbearable feelings of guilt and anger, and always in the end, a feeling that while the wounds will scar forever, that the greatest gift we can give eachother is honest acceptance .
And the voices of her characters ring true.
Go out and read both if you’re looking for a little bit of healing in a world full of difficulties.