Review: Kaleidoscope edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios

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I make no secret of the fact that I am a huge fan of the work that Twelfth Planet Press has been putting out over the last few years.  So when the crowdfunding compaign for a YA anthology, Kaleidoscope, was announced, I was already on board.

And then I read what Twelfth Planet Press were aiming with, and I couldn’t throw money at the project fast enough.  To quote from the pozible campaign:

Kaleidoscope is an anthology of diverse contemporary YA fantasy & science fiction stories, which will be edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein, and published by Twelfth Planet Press. Too often popular culture and media defaults to a very narrow cross section of the world’s populace. We believe that people of all kinds want to see themselves reflected in stories. We also believe that readers actively enjoy reading stories about people who aren’t exactly like them. We want see more stories featuring people who don’t always get the spotlight, so we’re gathering a wonderful variety of:

* YA fantasy stories [Update: As of 10/23 we are also open to science fiction]
* Set in the modern world
* Featuring teen protagonists from diverse backgrounds

The main characters in Kaleidoscope stories will be part of the QUILTBAG, neuro-diverse, disabled, from non-Western cultures, people of color, or in some other way not the typical straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied characters we see all over the place.

That said, these aren’t going to be issue stories. The focus here is contemporary fantasy, and while the characters’ backgrounds will necessarily affect how they engage with the world, we’re not going to have a collection of “Very Special Episode” stories about kids coming to terms with their sexuality/disability/mental illness/cultural identity, etc. We want to see protagonists from all sorts of backgrounds being the heroes of their own journeys.

 

 

A note before I begin: the stories from Australian authors in this anthology are currently entrants in the Aurealis Awards; I am a judge on the YA panel, and as such will not be talking about these stories in this review.  I hope to come back and add a review of the Australian stories once the judging period has ended and the awards announced.

First of all, this is a pretty, pretty book.  Twelfth Planet Press have produced some really gorgeous books (seriously, I don’t think the TPP team is capable of producing anything less), and, in my opinion, Kaleidoscope and the recent reprinting of Kirstyn McDermott’s Perfections have taken the quality to an even higher level.  Many kudos to Amanda Rainey for the striking cover art.

One of the aims of Kaleidoscope in the Pozible campaign was to be inclusive, but that the stories included in the anthology were not going to be “issue stories”.  Does the final product follow through on this aim?  Oh yes, and then some.

All of the stories in the anthology are exceptional – even those that didn’t resonate for me (and that says much more about me as a reader than it does about any of the stories) are extremely good stories.

I’m not going to talk about every story, just the ones that are particular favourites of mine:

Alena McNamara’s The Day the God Died, in which a gender-questioning teenager encounters a strange, dying god.  The image of the god itself haunts me, long after I finished reading this story, and I’d very much like to read more of McNamara’s work.

E.C. Myers’ Kiss and Kiss and Kiss and Tell, in which a mentally ill girl encounters a new drug that supposedly shows you the future, only no one knows how the drug interacts with psychoactive medication.  The treatment of mental illness in this one is brilliant, and it is highly recommended.  Also, points for great title.

Sofia Samatar’s Walkdog, which is written in the form of a term paper, complete with mispellings here and there (and all I can think about is editor’s brains breaking as they leave them in).  This story is my favourite out of the anthology – it is brilliantly written and seriously haunting.  I think Samatar is one of the most talented writers being published right now, and this story is perhaps one of the best things that she has written.

Amal El-Mohtar’s The Truth About Owls, in which the Lebanese-British protagonist finds herself drawn to Welsh mythology in an attempt to try to understand herself.  Just beautiful.

Shveta Thakrar’s Krisha Blue, in which a teenage artist who feels that she does not fit in discovers a strange new power.  This story speaks so much to the teenage girl I was – I wasn’t an artist, but I shared Neha’s feeling of isolation, and reading a story like this would have made me feel less alone.

John Chu’s Double Time explores a world where people have the technology to jump back in time; in this case it’s used by figure skaters to jump back and skate routines beside themselves.  Chu captures that feeling of being a teenager, never feeling like you’re going to live up to people’s expectations, so perfectly.

Overall, Kaleidoscope is probably one of the strongest anthologies I have read.  I can see so many teenagers and adults opening this, people who feel other and alone, and finding themselves in the pages somewhere.  And anyone who doesn’t might just be able to take a step back from their own life and feel compassion for the people they have always seen as Other.

 

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