Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Giving New Life To The Search For Identity

I said yesterday that I had a mixed reaction to Undine by Penni Russon. The up part of the mix? I particularly liked the parts of the book where Undine starts questioning her father, whom she has only just met. "What am I? The things I can do? What are you?"

Later she asks again, "What am I?" In the course of the conversation with her father she asks things like, "Am I a witch?" "A sorcerer? A magician?" "Are there others like us?" "And...and...what do we do?"

I found this very moving, a twist on the traditional adolescent concerns with identity, who they are now, who and what they are going to be. Okay, sure, you're not going to find too many real adolescents wondering if they're witches or sorcerers. But I can still see why fantasies like Undine appeal to a teenage readership.

Undine and the Magic or Madness trilogy by Justine Larbalestier both involve teenage girls suddenly discovering that they have magical, even dangerous powers. (Hmmm. Metaphor for teen sexuality? Especially in the case of Undine who inadvertently attracts young men to herself?) These powers come down to them through family members, some of whom they don't know.

Really. Isn't this a magical twist on adolescence?

In Pucker by Melanie Gideon a teenage boy doesn't discover he has magical powers. And he's always aware that he's not from these parts. What he discovers when he goes back to the alternative world he and his mother left when he was a child is that there is a place where he could have fit in. It's not accessible to him now, in part because of the decision his parents made long ago and never told him about. That decision changed him into someone else, changed his identity and changed who he was going to be.

Corbenic by Catherine Fisher also involves a young person with a troubled relationship with a parent. Are the fantasy elements in the story fantasy? Or are they signs that, like his mother, he's mentally ill? Who and what is he?

All these books are examples of traditional teenage themes being given new life with a fantasy element.

2 comments:

Lee said...

Not all that new - Margaret Mahy, for example.

kbaccellia said...

I loved all the books you mentioned. Thanks for letting us know that the second book of UNDINE is out. I loved the sexual tension in that book. I do agree with you on your summary.