Sunday, February 23, 2014

Red Caps: New Fairy Tales for Out of the Ordinary Readers by Steve Berman

Do you know what I love about Steve Berman's young adult stories? His characters always come across as young adults, neither too young nor too old. And, whether his short stories are strictly contemporary, speculative fiction or fairy tales, the core of the queer themes have weight and meaning, and there's always a sense of fun to be found in them -- creepy, adventurous, romantic, weird, fun. Their endings vary from the happy to the memorable, to the twisty weird, but as a whole they usually have a positive message.

That's what you will find in Red Caps: New Fairy Tales for Out of the Ordinary Readers. Thirteen stories where today's queer youth face contemporary issues, except that in most of them there's a sprinkle of magic, a dose of the unexplained, encounters with ghosts and/or mythological beings, loads of imagination, a bit of horror here and there, and plenty of atmosphere to reel the reader in. Add fifty original illustrations contributed by thirteen different artists and you have a stand out collection that any young adult (or lover of LGBT YA literature) would be proud to own.

All of Berman's stories have something to offer. For example, "The Harvestbuck" has an ambiguous ending, yet it is one of the most atmospheric, hair-raising yarns in this collection. "Three on a Match," on the other hand becomes riveting due to the plot's evolution and ending. "Worse than Alligators" is a horror piece that begins with a fun, relaxed atmosphere that evolves into a nightmare. And "Gomorrahs of the Deep, a Musical Coming Someday to Off-Broadway" is Berman's musical! Yes, he wrote a musical about Melville and Moby Dick that is both creative and amusing.

"Texting in Bed" from Cruel Movember
Illustration by Plunderpuss*
There are also two fantasy fairy tales, for girls, "Thimbleriggery and Fledlings" the wizard's daughter finds freedom through self-confidence and is infused with magic. And in "Steeped in Debt to the Chimney-pots," a quasi-Victorian piece, an ex-chimney boy steals from the fairy folk and falls for one of them. I was swept away into the world of this fairy tale, and loved the illustrations that fit this piece to perfection.

With one exception, all the stories in this collection have been previously published in anthologies and/or magazines. The only original piece, "A Calenture of the Jungle" begins with two young Jewish girls, one with too much imagination and the other with none, falling into a sort of frantic attraction fueled by role play, and evolves into an adventure with a twisty role-reversal, ending in a feverish dream-like madness where the narrator's imagination overtakes reality.

I do have particular favorites, one of them is "Cruel Movember," the only strictly contemporary young adult piece included. In this great piece boyfriends Beau and Easton learn the importance of communication in a relationship and how to lend support and understanding during rough times when during the month of November, Easton participates in the Movember mustache-wearing charity, causing havoc in school and embarrassing Beau.

From Bittersweet
Illustration by Kimball Davis**
In "Persimmon, Teeth and Boys," another favorite, Cecil, a nerdy black high school kid who has dealt with labels throughout high school, seeks help from a twisted tooth sprite and gains clarity about those labels and awareness about the attraction he feels for bright, brave, out and proud Bergen. "Bittersweet," another contemporary young adult piece with just a hint of magic, highlights relationships and confidence-building through two boys dealing with health problems as one goes into surgery and both suffer from fear and doubts.

I previously read and loved the following three stories and that still holds. I still believe "All Smiles" is a fantastic young adult speculative fiction piece with a hint of horror, great action and a wonderful ending. "Most Likely," a contemporary romance-based story with a speculative fiction flavor is memorable for the great sibling relationship and sweet ending.

And, the collection ends with the magnificently spun "Only Lost Boys are Found." Beautifully illustrated by Brian Britigan, this is a rescue adventure that takes the reader through a winding world of closets, where kids may hide or find a door to freedom while encountering pirates, ninjas, remorseful siblings, friends or boyfriends, and where reality and fantasy are seamlessly woven into my very favorite short story by Steve Berman. Recommended.

Category: LGBT Young Adult Speculative Fiction
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/February 14, 2014
Source: eARC from Publisher/Purchased print book
Grade: B+

Visit Lethe Press here.

Illustrations posted with permission from the publisher. © 2014 Lethe Press, Plunderpuss*  © 2014 Lethe Press, Kimball Davis**

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