Alaya Dawn Johnson: What Makes YA Fantasy So Awesome

Alaya Dawn Johnson is a young fantasy writer whose debut novel, Racing the Dark, has been drawing comparisons to authors like Paulo Coelho and Ursula K. LeGuin. You can read one of her shorter works, the novella “Shard of Glass,” at the Strange Horizons website, and in this essay, she explains what attracts her to young adult fantasy, as both a writer and a reader.

alaya-dawn-johnson.jpgI love young adult fantasy. My life underwent a sea-change when I discovered Diana Wynne Jones in sixth grade, and I’ve never grown out of it. What I especially love about young adult fantasy is a certain quality of focus, wherein even epic situations have a very personal orientation. In other words, the world might be about to get destroyed, but instead of hearing the story from the point of view of the king and his advisors and soldiers (the George R.R. Martin model), the young adult fantasy novel focuses on the scribe buried in the library (The Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia McKillip), or the thief falling in love with his greatest enemy (The Thief and sequels by Megan Whalen Turner).

But even better, in YA fantasy the world is frequently not in any danger at all. There’s no more of a “chosen one” in these novels than there is in real life. The problems are closer to those we encounter in our own lives, no matter how exotic the setting. So, in Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn, the main character has to confront how she has enabled the slavery of another race. In The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones, the main character struggles over nearly a hundred years just to get home.


16 February 2008 | guest authors |

Reb Livingston, “Rare Hawk Evident”


Hawk yes, freeway lifted flock
thick in soup, all apology
following white wiseacres.
Hawk maybe not.
Hawk faint on air.
Hawk die on beige.
Cougars run the turnip fields,
eating seed catalogues,

banking in pants,
barking barnstormers,
what we call authorized curiosities.
She keeps a journal of Hawaiians,
there were notable leis.
Wet rub, dry rub,
the last of the yellow cake
happy blondness
breathless beige.

Hawk not so notch.
She found her pygmy gabba aphrodisiac
because she is alone.

From Your Ten Favorite Words. Reb Livingston is a friend from way back; she’s previously written about her poet’s crush on Amy Gerstler for Beatrice. With Molly Arden, she’s edited two anthologies of poetry culled from the online journal No Tell Motel. Her poem “That’s Not Butter” was included in 2006’s Best American Poetry anthology, and From the Fishouse has audio of Reb reading several poems.

3 February 2008 | poetry |

« Previous Page