Animorphs was a YA sci-fi series that took the mid-90s Scholastic book fair circuit by storm. Written by K.A. Applegate, the books focus on a group of kids who gain the ability to transform into any animal they touch — but only for two hours, or else they're stuck that way. Naturally, they meet and befriend an alien named Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill (or "Ax" for short) who also has this same ability, and recruits them to join his guerilla resistance efforts to stop an invasion by a race of slug-like alien parasites who can crawl into peoples' ears and take over their brains.
Wikipedia informs me that there were 54 books in total in this series, although the latter half was ghostwritten, as tends to happen with these sorts of things. They all sported the same uncanny-valley-bad-90s-CGI-cover art of someone morphing into an animal. I remember being pretty obsessed with the series as a kid, and their quarterly-or-so release schedule was a great way to satisfy my voracity for reading. I don't know how well they actually hold up, but even The Paris Review recently sang their nostalgic praises. And, well, kids fighting against an evil fascist empire that's essentially invisible other than the fact that it hijacks the brains of parents and authority figures is, erm, still a pretty relevant concept. I also hear they dealt pretty well with trauma and complicated moral questions, which I vaguely recall as well. I definitely remember the body horror and food horror and surprising amount of death and violence for a kids' book. Read the rest
Don't Read The Comments is the newest book by Eric Smith, a literary agent and author of The Geek's Guide To Dating and other books, as well as the owner of many adorable pets. (Full disclosure: Eric was also my editor many, many years ago on the Quirk Books blog, and we've remained friends since then.) It tells the story of two teens who meet and fall in love pretty much entirely online, with the help of a video massive multiplayer game called "Reclaim The Sun." Divya Sharma has managed to turn her love of the game into a popular streaming channel that brings in a little bit of revenue for her and her recently-divorced mother. Aaron Jericho is an aspiring video game writer whose parents want nothing more than for him to follow in their footsteps and go to medical school. A chance encounter in "Reclaim The Sun" helps these two isolated brown kids find solace in each other—but a well-orchestrated doxxing campaign from a group of racist, sexist trolls threatens to tear it all down.
On the surface, this is a perfect nerdy setup of star-crossed lovers coming together against all odds, with a touch of hyper-relevant social commentary. In execution, it pulls that off with plenty of delight. It's certainly not the most high-stakes story I've read—the only doomed kingdoms exist in a video game—but Smith manages to keep the characters' internal stakes on the edge the whole time. And that's realistic, because these are teenagers, for whom everything does feel the end of the world, even when it's not. Read the rest
Kody Keplinger's young-adult book, Run, has a queer character in it. In its review, the trade publication Voices of Youth Advocates (Voya) suggested this was inappropriate for younger readers: “The story contains many references to Bo being bisexual and an abundance of bad language, so it is recommended for mature junior and senior high readers.”
Asked why it thought a bisexual character made it inappropriate for young readers, Voya's editors went defensive in record time:
Since this is Bi Visibiliy Week, I understand your need to find and destroy your enemies in a public forum, however, Voya magazine and I are not your enemies."
The complaint referred to was privately emailed; it was Voya's decision to publish it, without permission, along with this response. In another response, it doubled down on the notion that sexuality is inherently inappropriate for exposure to younger readers:
Sexuality (the act or the discussion or the mention, in some cases) and language generally reserved for adults are two issues that are legitimate concerns when addressing the maturity of a teen reader. ... This does not have anything to with with whether the sexuality was homo, hetero, bit or other – sexuality is sexuality. It just happened to be that the sexuality in this particular title (Why does that upset you?)
(Bonus points were not awarded for the parenthetical suggestion of emotional fragility.)
When scrutinized, Voya's archives were found to have covered many books "CHOCK-A-BLOCK with heterosexual sex". Only queer moments were subject to such "legitimate concerns." Read the rest