Young women may be flocking to the “Twilight” books and films, but the publishing world's gain is feminism's loss. The series offers bland, inert role models for young women. The gals of "Twilight" mainly sit around and sigh, waiting for the male characters to do daring deeds.
Now, though, there's "Nightshade" (Philomel) by Andrea Cremer, the first volume of a trilogy for young adult readers featuring dueling packs of teen werewolves in the Colorado wilderness. The chief female character, Calla Tor, is brave, fit and headstrong, and sports an appealingly nasty set of choppers. She decks somebody in the first chapter -- and subsequently struggles to control her own destiny, even while falling in love with the wrong guy. Call it the anti-"Twilight"p>
Granted, the book hits all the hot spots for the YA fantasy genre -- there's romance and an origin myth and more cliches than you can shake a stick at -- but its depiction of strong, energetic young women who embrace daunting challenges is refreshing. Cremer, a native of Wisconsin who teaches history at Macalester College in St. Paul, says she wrote the novel while recovering from an injury sustained in a horseback-riding accident.
Here's an edited transcript of an email exchange with the author:
Q. You grew up in northern Wisconsin. Any werewolves there?
A. I haven't spotted any, but that doesn't mean they aren't there.
Q. Calla is strong and brave. This really sets her apart from female characters in many other YA fantasy novels. Was this deliberate on your part? That is, did you say to yourself, "I don't like the wimpy way that young women are being portrayed in YA fantasy and I want to change that!" ?
A. It was absolutely deliberate. I've always loved fantasy and I was tired of reading stories that had a female narrator, yet the story focuses completely upon a male character with supernatural powers. I wanted a heroine who was powerful, independent and a narrative focused on her growth as an individual.
Q. You have many references to real, current things in "Nightshade" -- Luna bars, Chevrolets, the Denver Bronocs. What does this add to the story?
A. I wanted to bring pieces of "our" world into "Nightshade" to make the story accessible. Rather than having a fantasy world completely set apart from the familiar lives we lead, I hoped that the current elements would allow readers to feel like they are part of the story as it unfolds.
Q. You're not shy about putting classic books and big ideas in your story. Did anybody try to talk you out of this, claiming it would bore young readers or make them think it was too much like homework?
A. Fortunately no one did. The classics of history and philosophy are classics because they have staying power -- the debates I engage in through the narrative of "Nightshade" are relevant today even if they emerged in the Middle Ages.
Q. Why set the trilogy in Colorado? Why not Wisconsin? Or Minnesota, where you live now?
A. Two major reasons: first, I needed mountains and the hills of the Upper Midwest weren't going to cut it. Second, Calla's masters -- the Keepers -- are powerful and wealthy, but they thrive in remote parts of the world only engaging with human society as it benefits their own gains. Vail brought together the characteristics of an elite, exclusive community that befit the Keepers.
Q. How far along are you with the other books in the trilogy?
A. "Wolfsbane," book 2, is currently being printed. Book 3, "Bloodrose" is about to go into copyedits. I've just started writing a fourth book, which is a prequel to the series. This novel chronicles the origins of the Witches' War and is set in the 1400s.
Andrea Cremer has two appearances scheduled in the Chicago area this week: At 7 p.m. Tuesday, she'll be at Anderson's Bookshop, 123 W. Jefferson Ave., Naperville. At 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, she'll be at the Tree YA Lit Cafe event at the Buzz Cafe 905 S. Lombard Ave., Oak Park. Both events are free. Cremer blogs at blurredhistory.blogspot.com and her website is andreacremer.com.
Notes on 'Nightshade': Werewolves and women's power
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