Malinda Lo is an exquisite young adult fiction writer. Her work spans the fantasy/science fiction genre, with queer themes, folklore elements, and engaging and well-developed characters. One of my favorite parts of reading her work is that sexual and racial identities are front and center without being the driving force of the narrative. People of color are embedded in the stories, not tokenized or made remarkable. Teen protagonists are gay, or bisexual, or questioning, but they have more going on in their lives than sexual identity. At the same time, the realities of being a marginalized person are not overlooked. Racism and homophobia are real and affect the characters in realistic ways. These are books that will make you think, while at the same time spinning you into a delightful otherworldly experience.
Ash (2009) and Huntress (2011), both published by Little, Brown and Company in New York.
Ash and Huntress both take place in the same world, but centuries apart. Ash is a retelling of the Cinderella tale, in a dark and dangerous fairy world; orphan Ash must decide between her love for the King’s Huntress and her infatuation with Sidhean and his fairy world. This lyrical and romantic book won a great many accolades, including being a 2010 Lambda Literary Award finalist, a starred selection of the 2010 Rainbow List, and being long-listed for the 2010 Tiptree Award.
Huntress also takes place in the fairy world, with two teen girls from a dying land traveling to the city of the Fairy Queen to seek help. Descriptions of fairy magic and strange creatures are fantastical and the adventure is thrilling; so, too, is the tender love story that develops between the two girls. Huntress also received critical acclaim and was a finalist for the 2012 Lambda Literary Award, a starred selection of the 2012 Rainbow List, and was long-listed for the 2011 Tiptree Award.
Fantasy lovers will really get into these books; both fairy folklore and Chinese cultural elements abound and make for a rich setting with captivating narrative details.
Adaptation (2012) and Inheritance (2013), both published by Little, Brown and Company in New York.
Adaptation and Inheritance are science fiction adventures that take place in our world. Two teens find themselves embroiled in a web of government conspiracy, alien contact, genetic engineering, and romance. These books are direct companions, with the action breaking off on a cliffhanger in Adaptation but resolved in Inheritance. Because they take place on Earth, there is definitely more engagement with themes of racial and sexual identity, since we deal with marginalization in our world. The character development and social milieu are realistic and quite riveting.
Fans of The X-Files will love this series, but I think many folks who don’t normally go for science fiction will enjoy it too; the real story is about connection, love, and problem-solving, which I think everyone can relate to.
Find out more about Malinda Lo and her work at http://www.malindalo.com/ Interesting info: she was born in China and moved to the United States at the age of 3; she did graduate research on The X-Files; and she used to write for AfterEllen.com!