YA mythology and folktales

From ancient Greece and Brittany to the Americas and Vietnam, traditional storytelling provides rich inspiration for these YA re-visionings.

The Daughters of Ys
by M. T. Anderson; illus. by Jo Rioux
Middle School    First Second/Roaring Brook    208 pp.    g
8/20    978-1-62672-878-3    $24.99
e-book ed.  978-1-25079-036-1    $11.99

In graphic novel form, Anderson (Yvain, rev. 3/17; The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, rev. 9/18) and Rioux (The Golden Twine) tell the traditional Breton story of the enchanted underwater city of Ys. Sisters Rozenn and Dahut mourn their faerie mother, whose magic has fed their father’s lust for wealth and created the famous undersea city. Now motherless, Rozenn pursues her love of the natural world and lives in the wild, while Dahut takes up her maternal heritage of magic, sustaining her father and his riches through shipwrecks and murder. When Dahut notices Rozenn’s affection for a fisherman, she tests his loyalty and, inadvertently, her own, with disastrous consequences for the city of Ys. Rioux’s graphics stress the magical effects and action elements of the folktale, with a shadowy, subdued palette and abundant, inventive sound effects. Both transport us to a world that seems beyond language itself, a dangerous confluence of nature’s forces. At the same time, Anderson’s dialogue contemporizes events, allowing the tale’s psychological underpinnings to show through the weird, otherworldly drama. “What are we going to do without Mom?” mourns Dahut as the story begins. Final panels locate the story near Brittany’s perilous shore of Finisterre. DEIRDRE F. BAKER

The Sea-Ringed World: Sacred Stories of the Americas
by María García Esperón; illus. by Amanda Mijangos; trans. from Spanish by David Bowles
Intermediate, Middle School, High School    Levine Querido    240 pp.    g
2/21    978-1-64614-015-2    $21.99

In this ambitious and expansive compendium, Esperón collects and presents lore and legend from a wide array of Indigenous peoples from across the Americas, a.k.a. “the sea-ringed world.” The short, engaging selections are based on traditional tales that predate European invasion, some only existing as fragments that have been passed down orally through the generations. The fifty-six stories are identified by their cultures and geographic regions and begin with such folkloric openings as, “So long ago that the years are impossible to count…”; “Before time began…”; “In the remotest of times before anything was…” The entries relate creation tales, environmental wisdom, and sage advice for societies in existential crisis. Readers encounter a Spider Grandmother, a Cloud Serpent, enchanted hummingbirds, white-faced bears, llamas, whales, and more. The intriguing figures include Py’aguasu, the Guarani “god of words and good conduct and divine love,” and Uumarnituq, “one of the first two men in Inuit tradition” who “becomes pregnant and transforms into a woman.” Mijangos’s stunning three-color graphics — black, white, and deep blue — elevate each story and underscore the volume’s themes with their evocative motifs and naturalistic flow. Extensive back matter (though individual story sources are not given) rounds out this impressive, handsome, and universally appealing volume. LUANN TOTH

The Magic Fish
by Trung Le Nguyen; illus. by the author
Middle School    RH Graphic/Random    256 pp.   g
10/20    978-0-593-12529-8    $23.99
Library ed.  978-1-9848-5160-4    $26.99
Paper ed.  978-1-9848-5159-8    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-1-9848-5161-1    $10.99

In this imaginative graphic novel, thirteen-year-old Vietnamese American boy Tin and his Vietnamese-refugee seamstress mother, Hin, have always loved stories, with the two often reading library books aloud while enjoying time together. Nguyen (a comic artist also known as Trungles) delves into the world of Vietnamese fairy tales, including “Cinderella” and “The Little Mermaid” variants. Themes from these works — parent-child struggles, unrequited love, and the timeless quest to attain one’s innermost desires, for example — are reflected in the versions of the illustrated retellings Tin reads and in his day-to-day life at home and school, including his secret crush on a male classmate. Nguyen’s artistry radiates elegance on every page. Pastel shades of red, brown, and purple alternate to signify present, past, and imaginative plot segments. While some panels feature characters in pensive curiosity or profound melancholy, others burst with vibrancy, their exquisite portraits spanning an entire page or across multiple panels. Infused with emotional depth and integrity, this coming-of-age story broadens the range of Vietnamese American creative voices in books for young people. JERRY DEAR

Never Look Back
by Lilliam Rivera
High School    Bloomsbury    320 pp.    g
9/20    978-1-5476-0373-2    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5476-0374-9    $13.29

Pheus is an Afro-Dominican, bachata-singing teen whose Bronx world is upended when he meets Eury, a Puerto Rican girl visiting New York after she is forced from her home in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Suddenly, instead of spending his time charming girls and going to the beach, Pheus feels driven to allay the trauma that follows Eury. Eury is hoping the evil spirit Ato, who has haunted her life since childhood, won’t follow her to New York, and meeting Pheus distracts her temporarily from her troubles. But eventually, when she is attacked and falls into a coma, Ato finds her and takes her to el Inframundo (the Underworld), and Pheus follows on a quest to save her. This detailed reimagining of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice mixes contemporary realism with fantasy, starting with the backbone of the Greek myth and adding elements of Caribbean mythology alongside realistic issues of identity and trauma, as Eury’s loved ones debate the best way to help her in her struggles with anxiety. Though one could enjoy this story without prior knowledge of the myth, knowing the original will likely give readers a unique appreciation for this version’s updates. CHRISTINA L. DOBBS

Amber & Clay
by Laura Amy Schlitz; illus. by Julia Iredale
Middle School, High School    Candlewick    544 pp.    g
3/21    978-1-5362-0122-2    $22.99

Curation, historical fiction, performance piece — Schlitz (Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, rev. 11/07) brings a bundle of learning, artifice, and intentionality to this highly stylized tale of ancient Greece. With the god Hermes as sometimes-narrator (“No. Don’t put down the book…If the lines look like poetry, relax. This book is shorter than it looks”), the plot revolves around Rhaskos, an enslaved boy, and Melisto, an aristocratically born Greek girl — “a wild girl, chosen by Artemis.” For structure, Schlitz curates eighteen “exhibits” — fragments of inscriptions, pottery, and sculpture. As in a museum display or textbook, each has its explanatory note. Each also initiates a section of the story. We follow Rhaskos from his childhood collecting dung to his work as slave to upper-class Menon, when he first encounters Sokrates. We watch as Melisto survives maternal abuse to become one of Artemis’s acolytes, her life ending in an ecstatic, tragic dance, when the two narrative threads — one in verse, one in prose — entwine. Schlitz deploys many voices; Hermes, Rhaskos, Hephaistos, Artemis, Sokrates, and more have their declamations, strophes, and antistrophes, characteristic of a Greek chorus and fitting for oral performance. Scraps of philosophy find a place, as does much information on pronunciation, etymology, the gods, and relevant cultural practice. Ambitious and original, this is stuffed with food for thought, often sparkling with wit and appropriate strangeness. DEIRDRE F. BAKER

From the March 2021 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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