YA Fantasy Annotated Bibliography

About these books…

These books are in the YA fantasy. They focus on both male and female lead characters. YA fantasy in literature involves plots that could not take place in the real world. The sub genre can contain anything from fairies and dragons to people with magical abilities. YA fantasy involves the idea that readers can escape to an alternate place and time while joining the characters on a thrilling adventure. While many YA fantasy novels tend to be in a series, there are some that are stand-alone works. All of the books mentioned here are part of a different novel series, but they are reviewed and analyzed as standalone works.

According to the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), YA books have a target audience aimed at kids aged 12 to 18 years with the protagonists of the novels within the same age range. The story is almost always told through the teenagers point of view. Balance Careers’ research on the YA book market shows that 70% of the YA market is purchased by adults. Though YA literature is written for ages 12-18 with the protagonist being teen-aged, many adults find the stories entertaining and relatable.

Why fantasy for young readers…

This selection of books will focus on readers starting at age 12. Information on the reading levels and age ranges provided by YABC.  

YA fantasy is a form of literature that allows the reader to leave the everyday behind as they temporarily transport themselves to the safe confines of their reading. Young readers are dealing with a juggling act of multiple stressors. Due to their age and maturity, they lack the ability to control their environment.  “It is through fantasy that we have always sought to make sense of the world, not through reason” (Zipes 78).

According to Standout Books, YA novels should contain strong character voices that speak to the targeted reader’s age. They should also be simple enough in writing that the reader can understand the subject matter with an ending that leaves the reader happy, or at least content that they were able to survive the journey and they are stronger for it.

Farah Mendlesohn’s Rhetorics of Fantasy proposes four categories/ subgenres of fantasy novels. The portal-quest, immersive, intrusion, and liminal. These are all derived from the relationship between the protagonist and the fantasy world.

The portal-quest involves the protagonist(s) entering the fantasy world through some form of entrance, like a portal or door. It is important to note that while the fantasy world exists on the other side of the portal, it does not bleed through to reality’s side. A classic example would be The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. The children in the story enter the magical world through a clothes wardrobe. It is their only way in or out of the magical realm.

The immersive fantasy allows the reader to be completely surrounded by the world from the beginning of the story. All information and understandings of the world are presented through the protagonist is aware of the abilities of others and the world for the entire story. The fantastic parts of the world are common knowledge for the characters. In this type of fantasy, the reader learns through the eyes of a character or characters about the world as it appears to be normal everyday events. A classic example of this would be The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. The characters are part of the magical fantasy world from beginning to end.

Intrusion fantasy is when the fantastic aspects and abilities of the magical world interrupt the protagonist’s life in some way. The interruption takes the protagonist out of their comfort zone and puts everything they ever thought they believed to be real about the world into turmoil. In order to keep a sense of urgency and surprise to the fantastic elements the events and knowledge often escalate as the protagonist adapts to the situation. A well-known example of this would be Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. Harry lives his life up to the start of the book thinking everything is normal and that there is no such thing as magic. He is quickly thrown into the magical world and every time he thinks he is adapting more fantastic things happen to shatter his sense of normalcy.

Liminal is a fantasy that is set in reality and does not appear to disrupt the protagonist’s view of the world. What happens in a liminal world might not be welcoming to the characters, but they do not object to the happenings as otherworldly. An example of this would be Yes, But Today is Tuesday by Joan Aiken. In the book, unicorns show up on the family’s lawn on Tuesday. They are more concerned with the fact that this happens on a Tuesday rather than Monday, then they are about the magical creatures appearing in their normal reality.

The genre is usually steeped in mythology, folklore, fairy tales, alternate realities, or possibly all of the above. It contains universal archetypes that help the reader relate to the story. Oftentimes the reader is led on a journey where the underdog or unappreciated main character grows into hero status. Fantasy allows them a safe haven to imagine the impossible while exploring such topics as friendship and their idea of self.

Books I choose to read…

Beddor, Frank. The Looking Glass Wars. Dial Books, 2006.

Mull, Brandon. Fablehaven. Shadow Mountain, 2006.

Nielsen, Jennifer A. The False Prince. Scholastic Press, 2012.

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Raven Boys. Scholastic Press, 2012.

Yancey, Richard. The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp. Scholastic, 2005.

Thoughts after reading these books…

YA is really meant for all ages from the minimum reading level and up. Everyone loves a good tale of good versus evil, the hero growing stronger through their experiences, and triumph. YA fantasy stories can involve more than one of Mendlesohn’s categories. Sometimes they can be a blend of multiple categories as they contain elements of portals, immersions, and quests. YA fantasy can be liminal, but this rare. Usually, it is preferred by a reader to either start in the magical world or be shocked into its existence. After reading each of these books I went and read reviews so I could get a take on how readers feel about the stories. I found that many readers were, in fact, adults, and especially in the case of The Looking Glass Wars, they have very definite opinions on the stories. With this one, in particular, it is probably because the readers studied and read the original Carroll inspiration as a child and now have very definite feelings one way or the other about his work.


Alex. “Farah Mendlesohn’s Four Funky Factions of Fantasy.” The Afictionado, https://theafictionado.wordpress.com/2018/07/19/four-funky-factions-of-fantasy.

McCoach, Katie. “5 Key Ingredients All Young Adult Novels Must Have.” Standout Books, https://www.standoutbooks.com/key-ingredients-young-adult-novels.

Mendlesohn, Farah. Rhetorics of Fantasy. Wesleyan University Press, 2013.

Pauley, Kimberly. “YA Books Central.” YA Books Central, http://www.yabookscentral.com.

Peterson, Valerie. “Young Adult and Bew Adult Book Markets.” The Balance Careers, https://www.thebalancecareers.com/the-young-adult-book-market-2799954.

Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), American Library Association, http://www.ala.org/yalsa/.

Zipes, Jack. “Why Fantasy Matters Too Much.” The Journal of Aesthetic Education, vol. 43, no. 2, 2009, pp. 77–91., doi:10.1353/jae.0.0039.

Beddor, Frank. The Looking Glass Wars. Dial Books, 2006.

“Alyss knew she could do a lot worse than be Queen of Wonderland, but even a future monarch doesn’t always do what she is supposed to do.”

-Page 11 from The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

The Looking Glass Wars is a YA fantasy about Alyss, the long lost princess of Wonderland. The book is an alternate take on the Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. You do not need to have read Carroll’s version to enjoy the book; however, do not expect this book to pay homage to the original. Lewis Carroll himself is portrayed in the book and the rest of the characters are only vaguely related to any resemblance of their counterparts. The book contains violent battles and death with elements of both a portal-quest and immersion. It is a portal-quest in the sense that Alyss begins in the magical world of Wonderland and enters the real world which turns out to be the immersion of Lewis Carroll’s contemporary time, Victorian England. Alyss sets out on a heroic journey to reclaim the throne from her evil aunt and is victorious. This book would be just as relatable to boys and girls to read. It is fast paced and Alyss is a strong-willed character, but the writing is probably more juvenile in tone than most YA novels.

Mull, Brandon. Fablehaven. Shadow Mountain, 2006.

“Kendra stared out the side window of the SUV, watching foliage blur past. When the flurry of motion became too much, she looked up ahead an fixed her gaze on a particular tree, following it as it slowly approached, streaked past, and then gradually receded behind her.

Was life like that? You look ahead to the future or back at the past, but the present moved too quickly to absorb. Maybe sometimes. Not today.”

-Opening to Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

Fablehaven is a YA fantasy told through third person point of view as the story follows Kendra, age fourteen, and her brother, Seth, age eleven. The book is a portal-quest fantasy that takes place in a nature preserve for magical creatures. The children learn of the world upon entering their grandparents’ property called Fablehaven. This story is appealing to both boys and girls. Kendra is a ruler follower and Seth is a ruler breaker. Both characters are being equally as strong and must find a balance to work together for a common goal. While both children have a point of view, Kendra is more the main over Seth. Kendra discovers that she is too obedient and must find the courage within the take risks so she can rescue her family. This story is about finding your place in your family and introspective. Both Kendra and Seth grow closer as siblings because of their experiences. They also grow as individuals after learning some life lessons.

Nielsen, Jennifer A. The False Prince. Scholastic Press, 2012.

“If I had to do it all over again, I would not have chosen this life. Then again, I’m not sure I ever had a choice.” -Opening to The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The False Prince is a YA fantasy that tells the story of Sage, a fourteen-year-old, prince in hiding. It is immersive fantasy. It takes place in fictional medieval lands and Sage is already fully aware of the world when the reader started the book. Sage’s journey is one of his own making and he must use his skills to find a way back to his kingdom. Years before he ran away, his parents sent him off to a boarding school. His parents have not been looking for him because they were killed by one of his father’s advisors. Sage was also supposed to be assassinated, but fled before this could happen. Since then Sage has been living as an orphan. The advisor who killed Sage’s family has a plot to put a false prince on the throne. Sage auditions for the role with the goal of getting the real prince back on the throne and to see the advisor punished for his crimes. This book is related for both boys and girls. They will explore issues of sense of self-worth and identity. Though Sage knows the truth that he is the prince, no one else does. He must learn to come to terms with his identity before he can fully assume the role he was born into.

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Raven Boys. Scholastic Press, 2012.

“Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love. Her family traded in predictions.”

-Opening of The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys is a YA fantasy that tells the story of Blue Sargent, a fifteen-year-old girl, who comes from a family that is clairvoyant. Blue has never been able to see anything for herself until the opening of the story. This is an immersive fantasy. Through a third person point of view, the reader understands that Blue is aware of the magic and fantastic things in the world around her. She believes in the prediction that she will kill her true love. She lives in fear and getting close to anyone due to the prediction. This story is geared more towards girls as it is a teen girl with normal teen angst. She has two jobs, fights with her mom, argues with her sister, and generally hates going to school. Blue meets a boy, Gansey, and his group of friends called the Raven Boys. Blue goes on an adventure with these boys from an elite private school. Boys might enjoy the book due to the cast of the Raven Boys. Throughout the story family, friendship, and the free will to make choices are explored. Blue finds that letting go of the angst will lead to better relationships and allow to make better decisions in her life thus forging her own path outside of the expected family traditions.

Yancey, Richard. The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp. Scholastic, 2005.

“I never thought I would save the world – or die saving it.  I never believed in angels or miracles either, and I sure didn’t think of myself as a hero.”

-Opening to The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp by Rick Yancey

The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp is a YA fantasy novel that tells the story of Alfred, a fifteen-year-old boy, who convinced to stealing King Arthur’s legendary sword, Excalibur. This sets off a chain reaction of events that lead Alfred to go from an underachiever to a hero. This novel will be relatable mostly to boys, but girls can enjoy the overall adventure of the story. This book is an intrusion fantasy because it interrupts Alfred’s first-person point of view on the world and opens his eyes to magical aspects he never knew existed. Not all of his adventures have good intentions, he is trying to steal a sword after all. He is witness to people dying and he can be partly to blame for them since he is making choices that lead to these events. The details have enough description to get the point across, without being too violent for young adults to read. Alfred works with the last knight of an order sworn to keep Excalibur safe.  Alfred learns through the adventure and taking chances that he can be brave and achieve good things. In this sense his character achieves self-worth. This book is very much a coming of age story.

Friendship: Ari and Dante

My favorite quote is when Ari says to himself, “Senior year. And then life. Maybe that’s the way it worked. High school was just a prologue to the real novel. Everybody got to write you — but when you graduated, you got to write yourself” (Saenz). In many ways, this book uses friendship as a tool to help Ari discover who he is and who he wants to be.

Quote from
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe’s Secrets

Social connections encourage healthy physical, social, and emotional development. Friendship in adolescence is important as teens “start to spend less time with parents and siblings, friendships with peers become an increasingly important source of these social connections” (HHS.gov). For girls, it is socially acceptable to find close bonds with “girlfriends” who are their platonic friends. “Stereotypes of boys often send the message that boys don’t feel as strongly or form the same type of attachments in their friendships, but this is inherently false. It is human nature to attach to certain people and to want closeness and support from others, regardless of gender” (Derhally). Hence, this is probably why the term “bromance” came about. This term gives males a way to signify the relationship while remaining platonic in meaning.

In Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, we follow the development of two boys and their friendship. The boys have a lot of commonalities. Neither is allowed to watch television during the day, they are both Mexican American, and both have two-parent families in education. Ari (Aristotle) is from a multiple child working class family, though he is not close in age to any of the other children. He is reserved as he carries a lot of anger and resentment towards a family secret. Dante is an only child from a middle-class family and is outgoing and confident, though he is hesitant about his heritage. Over the course of their growing friendship, Dante teaches Ari to swim and Ari teaches Dante that he can accept his heritage, despite not being from Mexico. Positive forms of masculinity are represented in both fathers and help to mold the positive relationships of Ari and Dante as they transition into young men.

“Adolescents become reliant on peers as a primary source of social support” (Masten 106). Ari and Dante suffer through traumatic accidents during their friendship. These events make their bond stronger. Ari attempts to save Dante from being hit by a car, only to have the car hit Ari instead. Dante is beaten by boys who are not accepting of him kissing another boy. Ari gets angry at the boys from what they did to Dante and threatens them. Both Ari and Dante instinctively want to protect the other.  Their friendship grows from a mutual fondness to a love. We are reading the story from Ari’s POV and the signs are subtle for him. We get to experience the ups and downs as Ari experiences them.

Between the traumatic events, separation once their friendship becomes established, the letters of time spent apart, their reunion, and Ari and Dante’s separate coming-out stories this book explores the many ways being authentic makes one a happier person. Sometimes the hardest thing is being honest with yourself about who you as you discover yourself.

I have read that Saenz has said he will be writing a sequel, though no release date has been given. I know there is a large following for this book and many who want a sequel so they can continue the journey with Ari and Dante. What do you think about a sequel? I’m in the mindset that I love the ending and no matter where the characters go after this they have a special place in each other’s lives.

Derhally, Lena Aburdene. “The Importance of Childhood Friendships, and How to Nurture Them.” The Washington Post, 25 July 2016, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/07/25/the-importance-of-childhood-friendships-and-how-to-nurture-them/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.e5259cb114d7.

Masten, Carrie L, et al. “Time Spent with Friends in Adolescence Relates to Less Neural Sensitivity to Later Peer Rejection.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, vol. 7, no. 1, Jan. 2012, pp. 106–114., doi:https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsq098.

Office of Adolescent Health. “Healthy Friendships in Adolescence.” HHS.gov, US Department of Health and Human Services, 25 Mar. 2019, http://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-development/healthy-relationships/healthy-friendships/index.html.

Exploring Adolescence through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The Harry Potter books are relatable for youth and adults. Youth can relate as they are going through ever-changing phases and the shock of navigating into the young adult world. Adults of all ages can relate as they relive the feelings of uncertainty and youth. An article that breaks down Erik Erikson’s theory of identity formation can be found at https://the-artifice.com/harry-potter-identity-formation/

As described in Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, identity formation is the main goal of a person as they transition from adolescent to adulthood. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone gives great examples of adolescent turmoil with internal character struggles, peer relationships, and how to deal with both the loss of and lack of family ties. While the story centers on Harry, we also get the perceptions of Ron and Hermione, lending multiple gender and familial dynamics. When you look beyond the fantastic magical world in Harry Potter you have normal teenagers who are stumbling through adolescence.

The background of the three main adolescents gives most everyone a relatable character to latch onto. We know of Harry’s past with the physically and emotionally cruel Dursley family. Ron comes from the seemingly perfect family in Harry’s eyes that is until you start to unpack Ron’s adolescent baggage. Ron’s family is close and his parents are loving, as well as kind. But, for Ron, he must deal with living in the shadow of his older brothers. The oldest brother was an exceptional Quidditch player and now a dragon keeper. The middle boys, twins Fred and George, are liked by most in the school for their lighthearted antics and pranks. Hermione comes from a muggle family, one that is non-magical, but Hermione is what we would call a gifted student. She excels more in studies and less in social activities. Her parents love her, but cannot relate to her.

The three main adolescent characters experience many normal experiences that speak to the reader. They stress over exams, lament over teenage crushes, and participate in extracurricular activities, such as Quidditch. Their identities are wrapped up in how they are perceived by their peers. Their school, teachers, and friends greatly influence the way the characters handle their environment. Their friendships with one another are also a large indicator of their identity formation. The choices they make as friends shape the outcome of their path to adulthood.

The book is a fantasy and thus provides a safe way around being sorted into groups. The sorting hat acts as an identity formulator, a personality test of sorts. The hat is an all-knowing being who can determine a place for each student at Hogwarts. This allows students with similar interests, personalities, and traits a way to be placed with those who are like them. Group identity during teenage school years affects how an adolescent develops their self-identity. “Arrangement to each house is a part of tentative identity formation followed by experiences and commitment to the mature identity” (Bahn 39). The hat immediately shouts, “Ha! Another Weasley!” when it is placed upon Ron’s head. Ron must learn to live with the recognition that comes from being part of his family. “A strong motivation to experience a sense of belonging and connection emerges and adolescents eagerly engage in a process of group identification. The sorting hat is more than a personality test but a conclusive factor for determining the social groups” (Bahn 41).

This video, set to the Friends sitcom theme song, shows the awkward adolescent phases the main characters will endure. The song itself is a commentary on how to be a friend through good times and bad times.

Bahn, Geon Ho, et al. “Is Sorting Hat in Harry Potter Identity Identifier for Adolescents?” The Journal of Korean Academy of Child and Adolescence Psychiatry, vol. 28, no. 1, Jan. 2017, pp. 38–43.

Brown, Katie. “Harry Potter and the Journey of Identity Formation.” The Artifice, 24 Feb. 2015, the-artifice.com/harry-potter-identity-formation/.

Frank, Andrew J, and Matthew T McBee. “The Use of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s St One to Discuss Identity Development with Gifted Adolescents.” The Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, vol. 14, no. 1, 2003, pp. 33–38.

SunnyVids. Harry Potter | Opening Credits (F.R.I.E.N.D.S Style). YouTube, 21 Oct. 2018, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9JcCbh0pRk.

Carrie’s Intro

A little about me:

My name is Carrie Smith. I run a local nonprofit for students 5th-12th called Edwardsville Robotics. I am a trainer for the 5th-8th grade coaches and the head coach for the 9th-12th high school aged team. My background is in museums and nonprofits and I have my MPA from here at SIUE.

My plans for the summer:

Busy doesn’t begin to describe it. My summer always rotates around being the mom taxi. I have multiple weeks of drop off / picks ups for my teenage son for multiple scout events. Besides YA Lit I am also taking an online grant writing course that runs the same time throughout June. The grant writing course will give me a chance to work on some STEM grant projects I have been researching. The family will be sneaking in a Destin trip sometime in July and then back to scout events and then helping the high school band at the end of the summer. I’m also on the board of my local library and I’ll be working on strategic planning throughout the summer.

What I like to read:

I love to read just about anything. I love discussing books with others and feel people connect through shared reading. This summer my son will have a lot of travel time in between places so he will be listening to the audio of my favorite series The Codex Alera by Jim Butcher. I’ve already enjoyed reading the same books as my kids so we can talk about them together. I like fantasy, paranormal, and classic mythology the most. I am just as likely to read a YA series as an adult novel. I find it fascinating an author’s take on the juvenile mind.

Past Literature courses experiences:

My past literature courses consist of mostly theory, classical lit, and post 1700 lit. I have a minor in Classic Lit in my undergrad work and always told myself I would finish my MA in Lit for myself after my MPA was complete.

Past online experience:

I have quite a bit of online learning experience. I have also taught an all Blackboard based political science course online for a community college. I have a certification in Teaching with Technology and definitely feel that online teaching has its place. Depending on the course and/ or the setup of the course some formats work great online, while others are better in person. Online courses can be stressful for some, but once you get into a routine and set a schedule for posting its pretty easy. My biggest suggestion is for you to do all your work in a Word doc and copy/paste into the online platform for your own piece of mind.

Ideal Student for this course:

An ideal student for this course should be able to fulfill all of their tasks provided they read the material in a timely manner and actively contribute to the conversation. I will admit Blackboard is a much easier platform for me to use. I have some experience with WordPress, but this might be a little bit of a challenge for me to take a course primarily through it as a posting site.