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This issue’s cover illustration is from Dara Palmer's Major Drama by Emma Shevah. Thanks to Chicken House for their help with this May cover.
Malorie Blackman believes ‘there’s something in this anthology for everyone,’ and there’s no doubting the variety on offer in these love stories for teenage readers. Maybe some facts and figures will open up her selection:
- 7 short stories (5 unpublished before this collection) and 17 extracts from novels, varying from 41 to 3 pages.
- Publication dates: 1990/99 – 2;2000/2009 – 5; 2010/2015 – 17;
-13 contributions from women writers, 11 from men;
- Settings in place and time: UK – 14, US – 7, and 3 which are less specific; mostly in the present, but others located in a Future London, Philip Pullman’s parallel Northern Europe and a world where time slips from present-day Thunderbolt, Georgia, to medieval Europe;
- Relationships might involve anything from tentative first kisses to the aftermath of rape.
Such categories need further exploration, of course. Settings, for example, range from the Bristol squat of Melvin Burgess’s Junk to summer homes on Martha’s Vineyard in E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars; and from HMS Unicorn off Korea in 1951 to the grime of early 19C London. Relationships comprise something like 16 heterosexual (one incestuous), 4 gay, one transgender and one in which someone’s struggling to discover his orientation. A glimpse of Pullman’s witch Serafina Pekkala and Farder Coram and an emerging tenderness between a robot and Audrey, the narrator of Matt Haig’s Echo Boy, complete the selection.
Malorie Blackman hopes that ‘the extracts and short stories will whet your appetite and encourage you to seek out more books by these authors’. Not surprisingly, the short stories provide the most satisfying narratives, since reading an extract is not at all the same experience as reading a novel. Some might well find their appetites whetted, but others might also be irritated and mystified. There are references to characters and events the extract-reader simply cannot understand – I’d read several of the novels, and sometimes a text couldn’t make enough sense in isolation. Not knowing what happens next (or before) can be exasperating rather than inviting. So the compendium risks becoming a series of trailers - advertisements, you might think - for novels and their authors. Random House, publishers of Love Hurts, also produce more than a third of the texts represented in this selection.
The anthology might well introduce readers to some of the most innovative and successful writers in the field, including Gayle Forman, Non Pratt, Bali Rai, Lauren Kate, Markus Zusak, David Levithan and Malorie Blackman herself. For those interested in the genre, the collection may provoke both insights and questions. Narration from alternating viewpoints, for example, is deployed in around a quarter of these contributions. Although writers explore sexual encounters in some detail, and often with nuanced sensitivity, all stop short of a description of intercourse. Where will we be ten years from now? Disability and illness are a focus of some extracts, as they quite frequently are in the wider genre. Ineffectual, dysfunctional parents are still a staple of several plots. Then there’s the quality of the writing. Out of context, I admit, what do we make of sentences like this; ‘Lockie’s lips are rough yet smooth, hard yet gentle’? Is that lazy writing, signifying not very much? Or are they words which capture the confused passion of a first kiss, especially when (in this case), it’s between brother and sister? Adult readers may also be reminded of how differently we read from many adolescents. For me, the Fallen series is formulaic, sentimental and repetitious – just how many more incarnations of the Angelic Daniel and time-travelling Lucinda do we need? One answer is that the series sells in millions in 30 languages, evidently satisfying countless readers.