Foreshadow: Stories to Celebrate the Magic of Reading and Writing YA

Image of Foreshadow
Release Date: 
October 20, 2020
Algonquin Young Readers
Reviewed by: 

Foreshadow: Stories to Celebrate the Magic of Reading and Writing YA is a fantastic book. Full stop. It is unique in its intention, exquisite in its writing and structuring, and clairvoyant in its vision of what that field of Young Adult writing should and could be. (Not to mention a wonderfully comprehensive tribute to the digital site of the same name that gave it birth.)

Author-editors Emily X.R. Pan and Nova Ren Suma put to rest every Young Adult book excuse out there. (It was not ignored because it had fantasy, or because it was futuristic, or because it was aimed at teens and other young people. Sometimes a book is just badly written.)

Of course, they do away with these arguments kindly, like teachers might. By including detailed asides with the 13 authors profiled here, providing insight into the writer’s intention and depth of purpose for a given story. Short pieces of analysis by the editors and other experts in Young Adult writing explain in simple terms the factors and tools used to write these stories, and how they were instrumental in realizing the gorgeous, well-plotted, absolutely literary, results.

Take the opening story, for example, titled “Flight” and written by Tanya Aydelott:

“She remembers all of this. She remembers the unicorns, their hooves protected by little skirts of hair, their mouths downturned. She remembers their yes, wild and mocking, which seemed to know her the second time she came to visit. She remembers the Spanish arch, torn from its home and brought across the world to be an example to schoolchildren and art historians. She remembers the fruit trees, planted to human design, pruned and shaped for the benefit of the gardeners. And she remembers her mother, beautiful and glossy, free until she wasn’t, untethered until the cage was shut around her.”

And this excerpt from “Risk” by Rachel Hylton:

“We, the sophomore girls of Carol Mosely Braun High School, would like to set the record straight.

“We were there for Marnie Vega long before she became a lobster.

“You think that we are interchangeable, that we are two-faced and faceless, that we don’t say what we mean and you can’t understand us anyway. You can’t distinguish what makes a girl in from what makes a girl out. But Marnie was in, ok? She was one of us. We were there for her in seventh grade when her dad kept getting deployed, like, over and over. We would crowd onto her twin bed and play songs from before Taylor Swift got bangs and flip through the book her dad sent her of pictures of Korean shrines, brightly colored against red leaves. ‘It looks so calm,’ Marnie would say to us. ‘Don’t you think it looks so calm? Don’t you think it’s probably so calm there?’”

It is obvious in every page that the editors love and live in this genre. In their selections there are unicorns, and transformations, and video game mythology (based on a strong command of traditional mythology and storytelling devices), as well as compassionate, respectful understanding of a teen’s mind and challenges.

But there is also a vision that suggests going beyond the now, foreshadowing (pardon the pun) the adult this young person might become, how the moments recounted here might result in one type of life lived versus another. Raising the stakes on the page.

And though the stories are modern, all have a retro feel about them, thanks to surprising elements not commonly used in YA, but that the writers (and their editors) made sure could be understood by anyone, regardless of physical age and experiences, but just told from the point of view of a time of life when everything  was uncertain, and it seemed like our lives were not ours to live. 

As Editor Emily X.R. Pan writes in her inspiring introduction for fans of, and aspiring writers of YA, sometimes in telling a young person’s story, you find your own, help yourself grow:

“Second, the process of rewriting something so thoroughly and successfully turned me bold. It takes a great deal of bravery to scrap existing words. From that experience I learned to trust myself. I learned that returning to the blank page isn’t truly starting over, because all the earlier sentences make for crucial scaffolding. It changed the way I think about the revision process.

“But most importantly, that story—weird and sad with a touch of the fantastical—carried me back to my instincts and helped me pin down the kind of writer I wanted to be. My excitement for it was electricity crackling in my veins.”

All that said, you do not have to be a fan of YA to enjoy this book. It has many sections to help and support teachers of creative writing, from explanations of motifs and story seeds, to exercise prompts throughout the book and in the generous appendix.

And if you are a reader who tends to stay away from the YA aisle, this may be this book that helps to dispel your misconceptions about Young Adult literature. That allows you to enjoy the tropes and mores of it, discovering, maybe for the first time, how they can delight and excite when used with an understanding of what they represent, of where they came from, and what they are in the story to achieve.

Because, aside from stellar prose, that depth of intention might just be the strongest uniting characteristic of these stories by Gina Chen, Mayra Cuevas, Desiree s. Evans, Adriana Marachlian, Sophie Meridien, Flor Salcedo, Joanna Truman, Maya Prassad, Lynda Cheng, Tanvi Berwah, Tanya S. Aydelott, Rachel Hylton, and Nora Elghazzawi.

Not that they are YA, or multicultural, or even chosen for this book by the same editors. Instead, it’s the ability of each story, of each writer, to pull off the magic trick of writing as a teen, while making sure the story has the depth and wisdom of the whole world. The skill to keep those two brains separate, so that a reader might experience the same realizations as the teen protagonist in the story—the same wonder and sense of expansion that is life, and the best reason to read fiction, in the end.