Parallel Worlds in YA Fiction

Guest post from Frances Lamb

Ever since I read Diana Wynne Jones’ Charmed Life (1977) as a teenager I have been drawn to fiction concerning parallel worlds. I am intrigued by the idea of different events and decisions creating different worlds, and the concept that alternate versions of a person (analogues) might exist. For my dissertation I combined this literary taste with my feminist concerns, and investigated the representation of the identity of female characters in YA parallel worlds novels. I looked at books published in the last fifteen years where a teenage female protagonist encounters another version of herself.

I already had a number of suitable primary texts, and when seeking others discovered a particularly helpful Goodreads list: YA Books with Parallel Universes. It was relatively easy to decide that my overall feminist approach would be guided by Roberta Seelinger Trites’ arguments in Waking Sleeping Beauty (1997). There is, however, very little literary criticism regarding the use of parallel worlds in YA novels. Although at one level this was disappointing, I found it exciting and satisfying to be exploring a new area which I felt deserved research. I was pleased to find much relevant material in criticism concerning subjects such as adult SF parallel worlds novels, the depiction of girls in YA fantasy and SF, and the representation of women in general children’s and YA literature.

Indeed, the novels offered so many interesting aspects to investigate that I decided that I had to limit my research and focus on three key areas. I looked at two aspects of identity with regard to the depiction of the teenage female protagonists: personal identity (character traits, behaviour, beliefs, interests, abilities and aspirations), and social identity (in relation to female friends, and as a partner in a romantic relationship). I also considered how the portrayal of adult female characters in general, and mothers in particular, offers reflections on potential future identities for girls.

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