Thanks to everyone who participated in my DVD giveaway. I've already alerted the winners, but I wanted to say that I gave extra entries to anyone who guessed my favorite fictional orphan is Harry Potter OR Anne of Green Gables, since I really couldn't pick between them. I love Annie and Oliver Twist and so many orphans. No wonder plucky orphans are such a great literary archetype!
I bought and read Kristin Cashore's two fantasy books, "Graceling" and "Fire," back-to-back in January, and I can't recommend them highly enough. They are not only original and clever but depict two strong, fierce female protagonists who can take care of themselves. They were the perfect books to read after my "Hunger Games" high, because Katsa and Fire are every bit as awesome as Katniss.
Here's a brief synopsis of "Graceling" from my favorite resource for YA literature, the YALSA:
Lady Katsa is born with a Grace (super talent) of killing and her uncle, the king, makes her his brute squad. When she meets Po, a rival kingdom's Graceling, she becomes more powerful as a woman of justice, self knowledge, and romance.
and of "Fire," from my colleague at Common Sense Media:
In the Dells where the monsters live, every creature -- even human -- has a monster version: monster leopards, monster kittens, even a 17-year-old monster girl named Fire. Men desire her for her beauty, kings desire her for her ability to control minds. She lives a secluded life giving music lessons to children and thinks she's in love with her childhood best friend, Archer. But as war brews, young Prince Brigan arrives in Fire’s village to ask for her help. She travels with his army to the city of her birth, where life in the castle is full of both intrigue and beauty. Fire finds the royal family worthy of loyalty and risks her life to help them, but first she has to learn to use her ability to control minds -- and learn to trust herself.
These books are excellent. Cashore writes exquisitely, and her books explore so many issues that many young-adult novels ignore completely. I appreciate it when YA authors realize that teens can be quite mature and can handle characters dealing with the cusp of adulthood and everything that means. I liked Graceling a bit more than Fire, but I think it's because sometimes love triangles make me unbelievably sad for the suitor who isn't chosen, and Graceling didn't dwell on its brief love triangle the way Fire did. But Katsa and Fire are both such well-rounded characters, and they have to deal with overwhelming situations that make them question who they are, what they should do, whom they should love, and where they should call home. I think they are best for actual teenagers, and they're particularly good for girls. Just be warned -- the idea of a traditional marriage is questioned and rejected, especially in Graceling. I didn't have a problem with it (not that my kids are old enough to read the books), and I think it provides a great opportunity for an in-depth conversation about marriage, and how it doesn't have to be an institution that oppresses women.