Sunday, August 24, 2014

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

"What do a disabled superhero, a time-traveling Chinese-American figure skater, and a transgender animal shifter have in common? They're all stars of Kaleidoscope stories!

"Kaleidoscope collects fun, edgy, meditative, and hopeful YA science fiction and fantasy with diverse leads. These twenty original stories tell of scary futures, magical adventures, and the joys and heartbreaks of teenage life."

When the editors entitled this collection Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, they were not kidding around. The book is full of difference -- in race, culture, gender, sexuality, ability, mobility, physical and mental health, religion, and economic status (not to mention species and style of magic) -- and one of the most notable things is that it's not the purview of the protagonist alone but woven into the fabric of each story. The diversity is so thick on the ground here that it's like walking through an Alison Bechdel comic strip -- or like walking through Mt. Airy. I confess to a fond partiality for "Signature," by Faith Mudge, set in a small indie bookshop in Queensland, Australia. The story starts out so full of cozy and familiar detail that I had to remind myself partway through that there would be fantasy coming!

There is also geographic diversity, though that's partly because the book is a multinational effort, with even the editors working together from opposite hemispheres. There are two Philly-area authors in the mix, whom we're hoping to bring to the store in the fall. "Krishna Blue" by Shveta Thakrar is filled with colors so vivid you can taste them, while Eugene Myers' "Kiss and Kiss and Kiss and Tell" delves into possible futures, drug interactions, and kissing games. Shveta and Eugene have both visited before, and we're looking forward to seeing them here again!

Some other favorites of mine:

"Cookie Cutter Superhero" by Tansy Rayner Roberts - Joey must leave school to become a superhero, and everything in her life will change. Well...maybe not quite everything.

"Vanilla" by Dirk Flinthart - A fascinating and sweet look at immigration and assimilation, and the meaning of friendship.

"Careful Magic" - Imagine being the only declared (and highly skilled) Order worker in a high school full of Chaos. Yeah, it's like that.

I read the stories in order, and I found the writing consistently engaging and compelling. As I scroll through the list of titles I keep seeing more and more stories I really enjoyed. So many different kinds of stories, so many different kinds of difference! Rather than try to describe them all, I will offer a list of odd pairings I noticed as I read through. I was entertained to discover that the highly disparate collection nonetheless contains...
2 lotteries
2 love spells
2 vampires
2 cosmic bridges
2 unpredictable machines
2 sets of daily protection rituals
2 interactions with alien species
2 strange types of four-legged animals
and 2 characters with veterinary interests.

Good luck with your own explorations! Kaleidoscope offers a wild ride to places both enticingly new and comfortingly familiar, and it's a great addition to the worlds of both YA and SFF.

-- Reviewed by Jennifer Sheffield
(Review originally posted in the August Big Blue YA Newsletter.)

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