Cornered: 14 Stories of Bullying and Defiance edited by Rhoda Belleza. In a poignant foreword, Chris Crutcher (Deadline; Whale Talk) writes, “We live in a bullying culture . . . we’re more interested in jumping on bad behavior than preventing it.” If you’re a teacher, a parent, or even a student, you might agree. In the past, there has been much ado about how to put a stop to bullying by meting out the proper punishment. Detentions or Expulsions! Rehabilitative programs! Isolate the abusers from the abused! Often (though not always) this kind of reactive behavior merely adds unwanted fuel to the fire. Thankfully, a movement is now afoot to try to prevent the viciousness from happening in the first place, and anthologies such as this one play an important role in fostering honest discussions. They also help the persecuted feel less alone.
Cornered has something for every kind of kid—male and female; LGBT and straight; sportsy, artsy, and bookish. Told from the perspectives of the bullies as well as the bullied, and set in inner city, rural, and suburban environments, the stories contain situations both universal (relationship, sexual, and familial stresses) and more specific (sports hazing, racial or religious discrimination). A few highlights: Kiki Strike author Kirsten Miller’s “Nemesis” stars a vigilante bully hunter with a secret identity who stalks bullies and makes them pay for their cruel crimes by outing them publicly on a popular Web site. Zetta Elliott (A Wish After Midnight; Bird) pits convention against expectation in “Sweet Sixteen.” Set in a Child Protective Services lock-up, a sass-talking teen prostitute befriends an ultra-religious 16-year-old mother who was rescued from a cult during a raid. The girls couldn’t be more different—and, yet, the same. Jaime Adoff’s (Death of Jayson Porter; Names Will Never Hurt Me) “The Truest Story There Is” expertly deals with the pressures of gang recruiting and resulting violence head on. James Lecesne, author of Absolute Brightness and the forthcoming Trevor: A Novella, offers up a startling “Still Not Dead,” which features a lesbian counting down the days to her own suicide. Not for the faint of heart, every story in this excellent collection is worth its weight in gold.
Prophecy and Prediction
Foretold: 14 Stories of Prophecy and Prediction edited by Carrie Ryan. Ryan (The Forest of Hands and Teeth series) approached each author who contributed to this collection with a two-part question: What constitutes a prophecy and are we better served by embracing our prophecies, even the negative ones? Their responses were varied in tone and style but well developed in content, making for a thoroughly engaging reading experience. Lighter fare than Cornered, but plenty of ideas to noodle over, all the same. A few highlights: The opening story by Laini Taylor (Daughter of Smoke and Bone; Lips Touch) is full of moody moonlight and anticipation as three damsels lie in wait after baking a dreamcake destined to lure forth phantoms of the men they’re fated to marry. The catch? They’re all waiting for the same phantom. Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries; Abandon) tells the spooky saga of marked twins who experienced an unbelievable event on their sixth birthday and then, again, on their sixteenth. Through a series of interviews with them and the people who know them, the reality of what actually happened becomes clear. Well, sort of. Hint: It involves extra-terrestrial activity. The gruesome “The Mind Is a Powerful Thing” by Matt de la Peña (I Will Save You; Mexican WhiteBoy) asks whether a character’s fortune cookie’s ominous message—“The Hour Has Finally Arrived”—will come to pass, and Richelle Mead’s “Homecoming” is yet another foray into the fascinating lives of the Vampire Academy’s Rose and Dimitri—this time, in Russia—that will have devoted fans squealing for more (no spoilers here!).
Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron edited by Jonathan Strahan (The Starry Rift; Life on Mars). Strahan is a staple in the world of science fiction and fantasy. He has edited more than 40 books, including Eclipse and The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year anthologies. In addition to acting as reviews editor for Locus: The Magazine of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Field, he won the World Fantasy Award in 2010 and the Aurealis Award three times (for those of you who don’t know, these awards recognize the top writers in fantasy, science fiction, and horror). Clearly, he has an eye for talent. The 18 writers featured in his latest project are top of the line and they’re all focused on one thing: witches. From Holly Black (Black Heart (Curse Workers Series #3); Welcome to Bordertown) to Garth Nix (A Confusion of Princes; Troubletwisters) to Charles de Lint (Eyes Like Leaves; The Painted Boy) to Frances Hardinge (The Lost Conspiracy; Fly Trap), the stories (and one poem—Neil Gaiman’s) here are suspenseful, funny, captivating, and, of course, deliciously wicked. My personal favorite? Peter S. Beagle’s (The Last Unicorn; The Urban Fantasy Anthology) “Great Grandmother in the Cellar.” A cookie-baking, present-giving, sweet old lady? Ha! Not on your life.
Like most bookworms, Alexis Burling has loved reading since she could crawl. She has worked in the publishing industry for over a decade and has reviewed both children's and adult books for prominent media outlets such as teenreads.com, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.