The best fantasy stories take us to a place that, at face value, seems completely unlike our own, and then create just enough parallels to allow us to pause and reflect on the world we live in. Kristin Cashore’s books, Graceling (published last fall) and Fire (published this fall) do just that.
We are heading into the holidays, so let’s emphasize the escape and adventure qualities of the reading experience. A rugged and mountainous landscape policed by monsters. A beautiful heroine who wants to use her talents (to read minds and change them) in the service of a greater cause. An on-again-off-again romance and the possibility of something more lasting. But, for more analytical teens, there’s also a view of what it means to strike out on their own, the responsibility that comes with that, and the realization that you must make your own choices and live with the outcome.
Think of 1984 or C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books or Watership Down. Or, more recently, Feed, So Yesterday, The Giver, and The House of the Scorpion. All fantasies, all with universal themes that allow us to examine our present society and individual situations with a new perspective from a safe distance. Okay, so this is a favorite riff of mine, that ultimately literature teaches us about ourselves. But I have watched young people describe their “aha!” moment, and even liken a situation they recognize in their own lives to one that a character from a favorite book has experienced. It is a gift to be able to try on someone else’s life without having to live through it ourselves. Maybe those characters take a wrong path so we don’t have to. Maybe they figure out a solution we hadn’t thought of. Or maybe they just allow us to escape our own anxieties for awhile and travel somewhere else.
Yes. Maybe they just let us truly enjoy a vacation from our daily lives.