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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Lesbian Teen Novels Week: Ash by Malinda Lo

Ash as a Lesbian Novel
Usually my reviews don't contain spoilers, but really discussing this book under this banner is kind of a spoiler, so I apologise for that.   I have seen this title on a few 'gay YA' type lists, so it's not a huge secret, but I suppose I feel a little odd about it as the lesbian content is so subtle, not the main point of the book, and isn't apparent from the start. I have to also say that this is part of what I love about this book. It isn't a lesbian novel in the sense of a novel about lesbianism, it just happens to feature a lesbian love story.

While I absolutely understand the need for gay kids (particularly, but also adults) to have 'coming out' stories, I also think it's really important for stories like this to exist. Stories that aren't 'about' being gay. There is no use of the word 'lesbian or any equivalent in this book. No-one talks about whether girls (or boys) should, can or ought to get together, although it does appear to be a society which sees heterosexuality as the norm (the traditional marriage pressure centred on property and family name is present). This - a novel where some characters just happen to have gay relationships, without discussion or concern about matters of sexuality - is the kind of book that is important for everyone to read. Seeing homosexual, (and bisexual) characters as part of a wider canvas is great for combatting heterosexist culture where only 'straight' is seen as normal.

Ash as a Teen Novel
Gorgeous cover, too (it's metallic IRL)
I originally bought this book for my daughter as a fairytale retelling. It does not disappoint. Combining parts of the 'Cinderella' story with Tam Lin-style legends of the fae, it weaves its plot around a mysterious and compelling wood; a rich rural folklore of faeries and herbal spellcraft; an orphaned stepchild and a selfish and superficial stepmother with ambition for her daughters. I thoroughly enjoyed losing myself in Ash's world. This is a sweeter tale than many of the dark fae stories currently on the market - the faeries are mysterious and dangerous, but are not obvious enemies here.

Overall, Ash was a great read - magical and compelling. The voice has an old-fashioned, fairytale feel to it - Lo has really captured the genre beautifully. The characters were interesting and not stock characters, whilst still fitting into the fairy tale world perfectly. I liked the (as far as I know) book-specific tradition of the royal hunt being led by a woman, and I have added Huntress to my wishlist.

Thanks to Portrait of a Woman for inspiring me to read this now.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this beautiful review Beth!
    I have read both Ash and Huntress and I think that Malinda Lo is a fantastic new addition to the young adult genre!
    And like you, I think that even if "coming out" stories are important, the other ones where the gay characters are accepted are really important!


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