- Recent Fiction by Joan Givner, Lydia Millet, and Amy Plum:Cli-fi Takes Off into a Dark Future
My journey into the world of middle-grade and young adult environmental fiction began with Canadian author Joan Givner. Back in the early 1980s, I came across Givner as a fellow—and earlier—biographer of Mazo de la Roche. Impressed by her feminist/psychoanalytical approach to life-writing, I continued to read her stories and essays as they appeared. Her turn to writing fiction for children, however—Groundwood Books published her three Ellen Fremedon mystery novels between 2005 and 2010—resulted in a bit of a reading hiatus for me.
Recently, I discovered that Givner has been at work on a fantasy trilogy marketed by her current publisher, Thistledown Press, for a middle-grade audience. Since this is the market for which Givner is now writing, it seemed a good idea not to wait any longer and to have a look at this trajectory.
Upon receiving a copy of the second of Givner’s Tennyson trilogy, The Hills Are Shadows, I was curious as to what has been going on in the field of juvenile fiction. To be honest, from almost the first page, I was rather stunned by Givner’s literary concerns. As most readers already know, what has happened is that middle-grade and young adult novels have embraced a much darker vision of our world and our future.
Not only have young people been watching Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead as part of their vicarious rites of passage, but also they have been reading, if not the works upon which these television series have been based, Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy and Suzanne [End Page 183] Collins’s The Hunger Games books. James Dashner’s The Maze Runner and its sequels (likewise translated into film) and books such as Monica Hughes’s The Dream Catcher and Zilpha Keatley Ryder’s Green Sky trilogy have enjoyed tremendous popularity among teens; Lois Lowry’s dystopian novel The Giver, also made recently into a movie, is another good example.
Since reading The Hills Are Shadows, however, I have come to appreciate that it is part of an even more particular field than middle-grade or young adult fantasy. In her recent article “It’s Not Climate Change—It’s Everything Change,” Margaret Atwood credits blogger Dan Bloom with coining the term “cli-fi” to describe fiction about climate change, whether present or impending. Atwood refers as well to Piers Torday, whose article in The Guardian summarizes effectively this phenomenon:
Cli-fi as a new genre has taken off in a big way and is now being studied by universities all over the world.
But don’t make the mistake of confusing it with sci-fi. If you think stories showing the effects of climate change are still only futuristic fantasies, think again.
For example, I would argue that the only truly fantastical element in my books is that the animals talk. To one boy. … Other cli-fi elements of my story that are often described as fantastical or dystopian, include the death of nearly all the animals in the world. That’s just me painting an extreme picture, right, to make a good story? … I wish.
Although middle-grade and young adult cli-fi includes a wide range of narratives, this review focuses on three recent entries, Givner’s The Hills Are Shadows, Amy Plum’s After the End, and Lydia Millet’s Pills and Starships. Givner’s trilogy will be rounded out soon, and Plum’s second novel in her “duology,” entitled Until the Beginning, appeared in May 2015. These three particular novels, however, all published in 2014, possess several correspondences worthy of investigation.
In The Hills Are Shadows, Givner takes four children—not unlike Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy in C...