In this issue of The Lion and Unicorn, we spend time with YA literature and its explorations of identity and culture as well as the history of the theory wars of the 1980s and 1990s in the field of children's literature.
Jon Heggested's insightful essay, "'We Taught You How to Dance': Cultural Inheritance in David Levithan's Two Boys Kissing," examines the recent paths that modern YA queer literature has been pursuing. Surveying the recent trends in YA narratives, Heggested focuses on Levithan's novel as a model of what he terms "visions of futurity" for the subgenre as a whole. Heggested's essay is not so much a critical reading of Levithan's novel as a demonstration of the way the novel has adapted to shifting societal attitudes and, perhaps, points to the future of YA queer literature. Acknowledging the recent growth of the genre and the acclamations the novels have received, Heggested, nevertheless, argues that little research has been done into effects this trend actually has on its readers. As he points out, gay "cultural inheritance"—that is, behavior, social customs and even language—must necessarily derive not from one's birth family but through contact with greater society (specifically the gay community). Consequently, queer literature possesses the potential of having transformative effect on its targeted audience. Heggested explores the way modern gay culture is transmitted to young people in YA novels, particularly questioning whether many of today's novels featuring gay youths are providing stories and characters to whom current young gay readers can relate. In this regard, Heggested lauds Levithan's novel, for, among other things, its inclusion of many points of view (it has no fewer than eight main characters, each facing his own personal issues). Further, Heggested points to the "ghostly chorus of gay men," all AIDS victims, serving as narrators and who suggest the thread of commonality among the gay community, helping to define what it means to be a gay man. Heggested points out how Levithan's work, in abandoning the traditional first-person narrative, has broadened the novel's impact by offering readers a "kaleidoscope of queer experiences." [End Page v] The book becomes, therefore, a touchstone for the way modern gay YA literature is adapting to shifting societal attitudes even as the novel also "fosters its own queer community of readers" and that it "imparts a lesson about what it means to be gay."
One of the most controversial, outrageous, and, ultimately, wondrous YA novels to emerge in past few years has to be Andrew Smith's Grasshopper Jungle. An apocalyptic tale set in modern times—and, naturally, in a drab Iowa landscape—this is not a story for the faint of heart. But the committed reader cannot help being captivated by the teenage narrator Austin, who ultimately becomes the self-effacing hero of his own story. Amy Pattee's "Painting Bison on Cave Walls: Andrew Smith's Grasshopper Jungle and the Potential of Unnatural Narratology" examines particularly the problem of the narrative approach of this outlandishly original tale and of unnatural narratology, in general. Specifically, Pattee addresses the complex question of the first-person narrative of the story, its unnatural narratological approach. Unnatural narratology occurs when the author flagrantly disregards the accepted norms of traditional realism, a quality dubbed "anti-mimetic" by Brian Richardson, one of the pioneers of the theory, along with Monika Fludernik, Jan Alber, and others. Pattee shows how the young protagonist reveals far more than he could possibly know if he were being portrayed as realistic and reliable narrator—in other words, he acts more like an omniscient narrator, but uses the first-person voice. This paradoxical use of a narrative that is at once both reliable and fallible is, in fact, Pattee argues, not uncharacteristic of the typical authoritative historical perspective—a perspective that purports omniscience, which, of course, it could not possibly achieve. She also notes that any story told by an adolescent narrator is automatically suspect. And, many readers will hear echoes of Jacqueline Rose. Pattee's critical exploration reaches far beyond the analysis of Grasshopper Jungle and provides considerable material for...