Holly Black: The Darker Side of Young Adult Lit

I just finished Holly Black’s collection of short stories; The Poison Eaters and Other Stories. I’ve had the privilege of being introduced to Black’s writing when I was still in high school. My English teacher offered the students that had the best scores a chance to read whatever book we wanted. She had a class set of advanced reader copies of Tithe, Black’s first novel. My teacher told me that it was a modern faerie tale. I was in.

TitheTithe was raw and edgy, filled with shadows that hid conspiracies and secret plot points. Kaye was a protagonist that walked the razor’s edge of sanity. Everywhere she turned, faeries were there calling out to her. Black’s use of detail is enchanting, gripping the reader and pulling them under into a dark world made of very dangerous creatures. Black finds beauty in mundane objects, giving a destroyed merry-go-round horse an ethereal quality, creating magic where there was none to be found. Kaye becomes a pawn in a deadly game between two courts of faerie. Her childhood friends, filled with innocence and folly, have darkened over time. She finds herself navigating the double-sided words and tricky riddles that sprinkle the language of the fair folk. Kaye needs to rely on what she learned as a human to help her survive the world that had always called to her. The plot played out beautifully, keeping the reader on the tips of their toes, forever surprised and rethinking.

ValiantThe sequel, Valiant, was no disappointment. Beginning in a familiar Jersey setting, the main character (Val) finds herself in Manhattan. She starts living on the streets after finding out that her boyfriend and mother were having an affair. She finds herself living in a subway tunnel with a couple of junkies and a boy who is gifted with the Sight. This novel maintained a similar feeling of dark treachery moving behind the scenes. Black also approaches a very important topic among young adults; drug abuse. The drug of choice for these characters is like nothing any junkie has every shot up; it was a faerie medicine that gave mortal humans a taste of magic. This novel was intense and vibrant, revealing the desperate damage that teen girls can experience and how they choose to deal. The gritty truth of living on the streets, the heartbreaking honesty of kids that do what they have to in order to survive, and the youth that can’t live without their fix, all of these things are strongly represented in our rotten reality. Valiant does beautiful work of creating a glowing light around the despair that drags us down in everyday life.

IronsideThe conclusion to the Modern Faerie Tale collection, Ironside, tied the first two books together with wit and creativity. Characters came together from each novel, creating a tapestry of relationships that are as fragile as a snowflake. Roiben and Kaye’s relationship teeters, as precarious as it always is. Val is not as prominent in this novel, but one of her street rat friends is. Kaye is pulled into an impossible task in order to prove her love to Roiben. The faerie courts, as always, are treacherous and ready to destroy the balance that Kaye has become accustomed to. Yet again, Black twists words into unnatural but beautiful shapes. She uses words they way her faeries do, creating curses and spells of redemption. Ironside was engaging and twisted in all the right places. Black understands the complexities of human and faerie nature so well that the characters on the page could be sitting next to the reader, telling their tales in shaky, excited whispers.

The Spiderwick ChroniclesHolly Black continued her career with the Spiderwick chronicles, a short series of five books created for children. These treated faeries with the same eerie respect and understanding that they are not all light and flowers, they are much darker than we anticipate. Our heroes in these books are much younger than the cheeky teens in her young adult novels. She continued the story in Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles, utilizing the beautiful and detailed artwork of Tony DiTerlizzi. The artwork compliments Black’s writing with careful lines and outstanding imagery.

The Good Neighbors: KinThe Good Neighbors: KithThat was not the only time that Black teamed up with an artist. She also has a series of graphic novels with Ted Naifeh titled The Good Neighbors. While graphic novels tend to be a short read, Black and Naifeh craft a marvelous tale of shadows and trickery that makes you take the time to truly look at the images. Kin and Kith chronicle the story of a young girl whose mother mysteriously disappears after an argument with her father. Kind will be the conclusion to this series. Rue starts to see things after her mother’s disappearance, things she can’t explain. When faeries begin to circle her life, taunting her and her father, Rue must figure out what this has to do with her mother. The inner working of Rue’s mind reveals the confusion of being raised to believe you are what you are not.

The Poison Eaters and Other StoriesAside from several compilations, Black released a collection of her own short stories. Poison Eaters and Other Stories contains several stories that were featured elsewhere before finally being bound all together. I first read “The Coldest Girl in Cold Town” in The Eternal Kiss, a vampire anthology. Black consistently defies the expectation of the supernatural and approaches it with a darker perspective, an honest perspective. She realizes that the world is not shining and filled with white beauty. The world is dark and painful. She shows this in each short story. Black’s active imagination utilizes every corner of magic and mystery. She often takes advantage of a familiar New Jersey setting or resorts to New York. She takes the creatures that are frequently romanticized and brings to the table the “what ifs” that are never considered. What if being a vampire is not romance and living forever in secrecy? What if faeries didn’t just want to play pranks? What if a tailor could save a life?

Black’s next release will be the first in a series called Curse Workers in May 2010. The novel will be called The White Cat. She will also be featured in several anthologies due to be released this year. The one that I am looking forward to the most is Zombies vs. Unicorns. I’m down for the unicorns. They’re some tricky creatures. Besides, Zombies are fairly simple to figure out.

See Holly Black’s website here to find out more about her books and her writing.

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2 thoughts on “Holly Black: The Darker Side of Young Adult Lit

  1. Prof. Ava Chin says:

    Your writing really makes me want to read many of these authors you’re reviewing. Good job.

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