QUILTBAG YA Fiction: You’ve Gotta Read This Book!
Every once in a blue moon, you come across a book that catapults you into an endless cycle of giddy squee-tastic GLEE. My friends, I’ve had such an experience, and I want to share a little about it. Is this an endorsement for an upcoming Storm Moon Press book? Yes. Yes, it is. But don’t just groan and roll your eyes at me for going all Marketing Director with the whole promotion gig. This isn’t really me speaking on behalf of the press. I’m typing all this out because I as a reader–and as an individual who identifies genderqueer–can’t stay silent about a book this damn good.
Curious? I hope you are! I also hope you’ll like what you read below and get excited for this book. I can’t wait for readers, both young and old, to get their hands on it. 🙂
I’ve been fortunate enough to read through Sinews of the Heart by Cody Stanford. I say fortunate because this book… hits the nail on the head in so many ways. It’s Young Adult QUILTBAG fiction at its very finest. Not only is the book well-written, but it touches on so many things that our genre simply needs more of and our WORLD needs more of. Here are a couple points I love:
A Young Adult novel that Breaks Rules
This book, quite frankly, breaks the rules. These days, people expect YA QUILTBAG fiction to basically be YA Gay fiction. Let’s face it, the rise in popularity of gay fiction in general has led to quite a number of authors in the gay romance fiction genre ‘giving a go’ at writing YA gay fiction. Is that a bad thing? Oh, hell no, it’s not! I love seeing an influx of Gay YA just as much as the next reader who wants to spread the love for GLBT to young people. But it does mean that the majority of YA books coming out deal primarily with gay characters. This book doesn’t end at that. Sinews of the Heart breaks past that barrier into not only addressing the common ‘coming out’ story arc for a character identifying non-heterosexually, but also addressing gender identity in a very raw and organic way. The main character, Nikki, is biologically male but lives as a female. Her parents fight about it, have pronoun arguments, the works. On top of that, a romance develops between Nikki and a boy, Kane, who then has to come to terms not only with his own sexual identity, but with Nikki’s gender identity, expression, and sexuality as well. Add another boy into the mix–Rory, who is secure in his identity as a gay young man–and you have just struck YA QUILTBAG Fiction gold!
Nah. To hell with gold; this is YA QUILTBAG Fiction diamond-studded rhodium. It has the potential to open eyes and minds through skillful narration, balanced storytelling, and some really amazing characters. All this from a novel starring a trans* anthrotiger in a post-apocalyptic setting! YES, please!
Post-Apocalyptic World from a Young Perspective
There are plenty of cases where YA fiction puts the young protagonists in a post-apocalyptic or a paranormal setting to see where the dominoes fall when they interact with whatever out there makes the world different from our present-day norm. You see a gazillion YA Romances where female protagonists are out there with vampires, were-whatevers, pixies, you name it. It’s been done to death by now. Post-apocalyptic YA fiction is a little less common, but it puts the reader in a unique perspective, following the decline of a world and the birth of a new reality for those still left after whatever cataclysmic event has left the earth reeling.
In Sinews of the Heart, the narration is not only from the perspective of a young person, but one who is on what most humans in the story would call the enemy side (more on that in a minute). The unique perspective really works to the story’s advantage. You’re seeing the world through Nikki’s eyes, someone who was born and raised after the Liberation war that broke out after an anthro virus changed a large percentage of the population into various predators. The world as we know it nowadays is a figment of the past only remembered by the old lucky enough to have survived on either side of the conflict… and only experienced by the young who rustle through trash or manage to find pictures and show-tunes saved on an iPhone.
This book pays homage to our current technology, but quietly asserts that technology isn’t enough to save our race from the more dangerous parts of our nature, from aggression, the fear of our differences, and the ability to hold grudges and delight in the pain of others. It’s not just something that comes forth with the more animalistic minds of the anthros, but something that clings to the humans and those who remember being human as well. Thought-provoking doesn’t even begin to cover it, guys.
Anthro Fiction That’s Actually Relatable
Like I mentioned, the narrator, Nikki, is an anthro. More specifically, Nikki is an anthrotiger, the offspring of two once-humans who contracted the Siberian Tiger strain of the virus that changed the population into predators. It gives her a different perspective, growing up where the ruins of the human civilization have to be explained to her by her parents. As an anthrotiger, she questions the ‘apes’ (read: humans) and their habits like any inquisitive kid. Despite what lies between her legs, she doesn’t want anything to do with the macho aggressive competitive boy crap that her father and other male characters in the story expect of her.
I’m one of those readers who would be tilting my head and giving one of those ‘You gotta be kidding me’ expressions at the thought of reading anthro fiction, but please please please don’t discount this book because there are furry people in it. You’d really be missing out. The anthro perspective allows us readers to look at humanity from the outside, to question the things that we’ve begun to see as everyday attitudes and occurrences. It’s the perfect way to be put in the position of someone who simply hasn’t been raised with the same values. It throws societal constructs into question: gender roles and double standards, war and conflict, prejudice based on any number of differences. All of these elements are touched upon in this book, which I find truly fantastic and can’t give the author, Cody Stanford, enough credit for. These are issues that every reader can relate to, and the presence of anthro characters only adds to the experience rather than detracting from it.
In the end, I could ramble on and on about the different things that resonated with me in this story. I loved the journey that Nikki takes to come to terms with her identity and personal expression. It’s something that I myself still struggle with at the ripe old age of 27. I’m still young, but I can only aspire to having the courage that Nikki shows in the face of adversity in this book. It’s really a story that I hope captures others’ hearts as it has captured mine. This book, you guys… You’ve just gotta read it!
Nikki was never meant to exist.
It started with the genchangers, human-made genetic viruses designed to meld animal features into humans for fun, fashion, or fetish. The viruses mutated, became airborne, began changing people at random. Then came the fear, and the war. The normal humans were quickly outnumbered and outclassed, hunted to the brink of extinction, and huddled in small, fortified settlements. Their only hope for survival was that the mutants would eventually die out. But the viruses mutated again, and many of those infected found themselves able to breed. Fur-borns like anthrotiger Nikki were the first of a new generation of life on Earth, homo superior. The world belonged to the anthros.
All of Nikki’s life, she was taught to hate and revile humans. But that was before she met the Buckmans, a human family trying to make it to a safe zone, nothing at all like the bloodthirsty monsters her father told her of. And in particular, the Buckman’s young son Kane, who stirs feelings in Nikki she doesn’t understand. Kane, though, wants nothing to do with her, and Nikki doesn’t know if it’s because she’s an anthrotiger, or because her father insists on calling her by her birth name—Nicholas.