- Posthumanism in Young Adult Fiction: Finding Humanity in a Posthuman World ed. by Anita Tarr and Donna R. White
This new collection, edited by Anita Tarr and Donna R. White, represents the first full-length critical exploration of posthumanist theory in children's literature to be published since Zoe Jaques' 2015 Children's Literature and the Posthuman. Unlike Jacques' study, however, which explores a broad range of classic children's literature, this volume focuses only on contemporary and recently published works of speculative fiction for young adult readers, [End Page 119] including work on authors who are less well-represented in other critical explorations of speculative fiction, such as Michael Grant, Lev Grossman, and Marissa Meyer. This focus on recently published popular works is, in fact, one of the key strengths of this collection, as many of the existing critical explorations of posthumanism limit themselves to well-known and over-examined works, such as The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, or Uglies. Building on earlier exciting but shorter critical works such as chapters of Victoria Flanagan's Technology and Identity in Young Adult Fiction and Kerry Mallan's work in New World Orders in Contemporary Children's Literature, the volume focuses specifically on YA speculative fiction and is therefore a significant departure from Jaques' work. The volume focuses, as stated in the introduction, on exploring the "power inequities" represented by recent YA posthuman narratives, and especially the ways these inequities "serve as motivations for adolescent characters to question traditional social hierarchies and construct new moral values that reflect their personal experiences" (xvii–xviii). As such, this volume very much represents an expansion of the ground already covered by critics such as Flanagan and Mallan, rather than a new perspective or focus.
The volume opens with a comprehensive review of posthumanist theory, especially as it pertains to children's and YA literature; as such, it is a valuable source for anyone new to this field of theory. Covering areas such as the difference between posthumanism, the posthuman, transhumanism, and so on, the introduction clearly articulates the relevance of this theoretical perspective for YA speculative fiction in particular. The following chapters are divided into four sections: Part I, Networked Subjectivities; Part II, The Monstrous Other: Posthuman Bodies; Part III, Posthumanism in Climate Fiction; and Part IV, Accepting/Rejecting Posthumanist Possibilities. Broadly speaking, these sections cover most of the main theoretical perspectives on posthumanism: Part I aligns broadly to the work of theorists such as Donna Haraway and Katherine Hayles on posthumanism and the digital technological age, Part II aligns to the work of theorists such as Jack/Judith Halberstam and Elaine L. Graham on fluid and hybrid bodies, Part III reflects a growing interest among critics on the intersection between Cli-Fi and posthumanism, and Part IV engages with the work of writers such as Rosi Braidotti and Francis Fukuyama on the conflict between humanism and the posthuman. As such, the volume moves from the familiar to the less well-known reaches of posthumanist theory. The relationship between the posthuman and digital technology is a familiar concept from popular culture, drawing on iconic figures such as the cyborg. For those unfamiliar with posthumanism, therefore, this section will feel accessible and makes a good introduction to the more complex theoretical approaches represented by classic theorists such as [End Page 120] Haraway. Parts II and III then move into less familiar territory, demonstrating how theorists have expanded the insights of digital posthumanism to other theoretical explorations of the Other: intersections between the posthuman and feminism, queer theory, ecocriticism, and postcolonialism show the wider relevance of posthuman theory. Finally, Part IV introduces the most radical aspect of posthumanist theory: its contention that humanism and humanist society is fundamentally flawed.
A number of essays within the collection stand out as worthy of note. Angela S. Insenga's "Once upon a Cyborg: Cinder as Posthuman Fairytale" provides a close examination of Marissa Meyer's Cinder (2012). Her argument that the posthumanist themes so common to science fiction and dystopia are equally...