Marketing is amazing, especially how it’s used in literature. Whenever the ‘genre vs. literary’ debate kicks into full swing – every other month basically – there is an argument that inevitably is along the veins of ‘the split is just for marketing terms’ and I have used that one myself. Horror, Science Fiction, Literature, even YA are ways for marketers to fit a book on a shelf and attract the type of reader they thing will most likely plop down money for a book. Books themselves, like people, slip in and out of all sorts of categories if you’re forced to actually categorize them. And readers read their own views into books, which makes the categorization even harder.
If you ask an MFAer who is fighting for a foothold with their professor, there’s a good chance they still might say the difference is that literature is creating culture, while the rest, that evil ‘g’ word they can’t say, is pandering. That’s one I got at least. “Literature illuminates the human condition” was what the most obnoxious offenders of defending the line in the sand would spout.
One of the things I’ve been trying to do is broaden my reading habits. It’s SO easy to pigeonhole yourself, the world makes it the thing to do. So when I saw a list of books where the protag was a non white male, I went through and read the descriptions and then found a couple of them to read.
Shadows Cast by Stars was one of them.
Here is the Amazon description of the book:
Two hundred years from now, blood has become the most valuable commodity on the planet—especially the blood of aboriginal peoples, for it contains antibodies that protect them from the Plague ravaging the rest of the world.
Sixteen-year-old Cassandra Mercredi might be immune to the Plague, but that doesn’t mean she’s safe—government forces are searching for those of aboriginal heritage to harvest their blood. When a search threatens Cassandra and her family, they flee to the Island: a mysterious and idyllic territory protected by the Band, a group of guerilla warriors—and by an enigmatic energy barrier that keeps outsiders out and the spirit world in. And though the village healer has taken her under her wing, and the tribal leader’s son into his heart, the creatures of the spirit world are angry, and they have chosen Cassandra to be their voice and instrument…
Incorporating the traditions of the First Peoples as well as the more familiar stories of Greek mythology and Arthurian legend, Shadows Cast by Stars is a haunting, beautifully written story that breathes new life into ancient customs.
Now, that’s not exactly how it was described in the list I read it on. That list emphasized the first paragraph – about the blood of the aboriginal people and the struggle to be free from that hunt. That excited me. I thought that could delve into wonderful race politics, especially for a YA novel.
But that’s not what the book is about. There are maybe 2-3 mentions of this outside threat but no more. The book itself is more of a spirit quest for Cassandra, the main character. She needs to heal the rift between the spirit world and the human one. Bring people to nature and themselves. She can see the totems of others and begin to heal them.
Many books, especially YA, are about the main characters coming to terms with their identities. Exaggerated identities are used to make that theme become clearer – you are amazing and unique and powerful once you accept yourself. In YA magic has become a heart of that discovery. Think Harry Potter. Or Katniss finding her inner warrior type savior strength. These kids are saviors not just of their families, but worlds. (diatribe – funny how our popular YA books do have the heroes fighting against the atrocities of the worlds they’re in, lets hope the next generation learns something from that message)
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that being the central message of this novel. It definitely goes hand in hand with fleeing a plague because your people are harvested. And the book itself was definitely engaging, if heavy handed in other metaphors at times. The Arthurian legend was slammed into our faces when it cropped up, her being named ‘Cassandra’ and it’s importance was also fully typed out in case we ‘didn’t get it’ instead of using allusions that would have allowed different levels of reading or interest to look into the importance of the name. As was totally overused. Do not use ‘as’ that much. Ever. But I did stay up to finish reading it, I wanted to see what happened. Part of that was me being interested, part was me waiting for more meat to the story.
However, I felt a bit duped. Soul searching stories are common and this didn’t rise above others, even if I did get introduced to new mythology. I wanted a story to explore more of the meat and bones of the politics of the world and being an ‘other’ (as they refer to themselves in the book) during a national crisis. This book is far ‘safer’ than the book I was hoping to read. I want to read books that ask questions that aren’t safe in our current climate. That explore things a bit more openly.