Young Adult Fiction Uses Myths To Keeps Traditional Storytelling Alive

May 14, 2017
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Drama, betrayal, romance, pushy parents, tempting strangers, and my favorite - togas - there's a reason that the glorious myths of Greek, Romans and Vikings and others have flourished, not just in college lit classes and children's picture books but also in the young adult paperbacks your teen is shoving into his backpack. Our WEEKEND EDITION Books editor Barrie Hardymon is here to tell us about a couple of new ones. Hello, Barrie.

BARRIE HARDYMON, BYLINE: Hi.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I read young adult fiction, as you know, because I talk to you about it all the time. And...

HARDYMON: Popularly called YA, for those of us in the know.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yes, YA. And I've come across a few of these. What's the YA market like for gods and goddesses? Why so popular?

HARDYMON: It's a wide, wide group of books, and it's dominated by the "Percy Jackson" series by Rick Riordan. This is where an all-American kid discovers that he's the son of Poseidon. Natch, adventure ensues.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Movies are made out of this.

HARDYMON: Movies - huge - hugely popular. The series is called "The Heroes Of Olympus." However there is this other sort of group of books, and there are tons of them, and it's kind of more in the romance novel. Meg Cabot, who is, like, the queen of YA, has a trilogy called "Abandon" that is essentially a retelling of the Persephone myth. You can see why that kind of works. You know, you have Hades as a kind of Edward the vampire.

There's one that I love, a series called "Sweet Venom" by Tera Lynn Childs. This one is about the female descendants of Medusa, which, you know, you can see there's a lot of sort of girl power there. So it's fairly modern. And I will say that some of these new ones that I'm excited about kind of hew closer to the source material.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, so you say that you have brought us some new ones to peruse.

HARDYMON: I have.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you got?

HARDYMON: The first one I want to tell you about is - I just love - it's called "Bull." It's a novel by David Elliott. It's the story of the bull lurking inside the labyrinth made by Daedalus.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, right.

HARDYMON: Right. And the youths of Athens are sent into the labyrinth to be killed by the Minotaur every year until one year, Theseus, the young golden boy, comes in to murder the Minotaur with the help of Ariadne and then takes off. And other stories ensue. Now this is so beautifully clever because it's a novel told in verse. And so by using poetry, it's really winking at Homer, who didn't actually write about the story. But they use these expressions like, you know, the milk-white bull or the wine-dark sea, which, you know, you'll recognize.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: From "The Odyssey."

HARDYMON: Exactly. But then they do it with a lot of modern slang and these other sort of creative rhymes to words that I can't say on the radio. But beyond that sort of nerdy stuff for classics majors, there's also this real story of desire and sadness and that worst of all teenage problems, the desire to fit in.

So it's really the story of how Asterion became the Minotaur. I didn't even know he had a name - he did. And he goes from this boy who's just mildly deformed - like, a horn or two - to this monster. But maybe he wasn't a monster. And so it has this real wisdom for children that could be dealing with the hell of teen cruelty.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, speaking of hell, I gather your next book takes that on directly.

HARDYMON: Yes. So this next book is about Hel, H-E-L. It's called "Monstrous Child" (ph) by Francesca Simon. And it's very similar in terms of taking on the monster. Hel is the child of Loki, the trickster god most recently made famous...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right, by Tom Hiddleston.

HARDYMON: It's - she has her own, you know, horrible deformities. Her legs are constantly decaying and gangrene and that - those of a corpse. You know, she has this terrible, dysfunctional family. But her voice in this book is so - for those of you that have teenage girls, may recognize this, like, super jaded, incredibly adult - which something about the adultness of it makes it heartbreakingly childlike. We all know that Norse mythology ends in the Ragnarok, which is the end of the world.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We all know that, do we?

HARDYMON: We - oh, you know - no, it's coming, guys. But even despite the apocalypse drawing near, there is also this thing where Hel sort of finds a way to sort of accept herself. But, you know, it's not a happy story. But if you're watching "13 Reasons Why," then you might as well go right to this one, right?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's our books editor Barrie Hardymon. She takes book requests, guys, on Twitter. So if there's something specific you're looking for, look her up - @bhardymon.

HARDYMON: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.