This week I have the last posts in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series, where I’ve asked YA & kidlit librarians as well as book bloggers to share books they think deserve more attention. Read on to see which book librarian Kimberly Francisco from STACKED wants to share…
Guest post by Kimberly Francisco
When I was a teen, I became enchanted with dystopias, likely prompted by my early love for The Giver. I sought out books in the same vein, which led me to the classics (1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Handmaid’s Tale), but there seemed to be a dearth of newer novels written for teens that featured teens.
In 2012, this complaint would be laughed at, but in 2002, I didn’t find much that adequately satisfied my hunger—until I stumbled upon Biting the Sun, a little duology by Tanith Lee.
Biting the Sun is two books in one: Don’t Bite the Sun and its sequel, Drinking Sapphire Wine. It’s set in a future world where consequences no longer really exist. In this world, if you were to die, your consciousness (or soul or life force) would be salvaged from your body and placed in a new body of your own design. For all practical purposes, death no longer exists.
I loved this concept, which seemed so new and fresh to me at the time. I loved how Lee worked with the idea of a consequence-free society, where people could change gender at will, jump from the top of the tallest building just to see what it felt like, walk around with real antennae for a few weeks, hook up with whomever they choose. The society is so technologically advanced that robots do everything for the people, so the people spend their days at leisure, dreaming up new and creative ways to kill themselves and come back in ever more ridiculous-looking bodies.
I figure at the mention of “robots” some of you made the leap to “sentient robots” and figure therein lies the conflict. Happily, that’s not the case. The conflict of the novel has much more to do with how humans—and one human in particular—find meaning in a world without consequences.
The book’s protagonist is a member of the Jang, a group of people similar to what we call teenagers, except the Jang are Jang for several decades instead of just a few years. The Jang are encouraged to act out, to be as wild and crazy as possible—sort of like how teenagers now are expected to act, but the behavior is sanctioned rather than oppressed. The protagonist—whose gender is fluid and is never named, a conceit made easier by the first-person narration—eventually grows weary of the lifestyle and decides to try and work, to find something meaningful to do that will improve the lives of others. When she (at the time) realizes that meaningful work is impossible, she decides to leave the environmentally-sealed world of Four BEE and see what it’s like to live outside.
Aside from not really knowing how to live in the “outside” world, her situation is complicated by the fact that there are those inside Four BEE who plan to do their best to stop her from leaving.
The books were actually published in the 1970s, so they aren’t as new as I thought they were when I first read them. But Lee’s writing and the concept hold up, and the world she’s created still seems fresh and new. She’s created a Jang culture that is believable, sometimes annoying, and weirdly fascinating (much like teen culture today), including a whole new set of slang. I re-read this book every couple of years and find that I continue to love it each time. Moreover, I loved that the ending was so different from the classic dystopias I had read before, all of which almost uniformly ended in despair.
Judging from the age of the reviews on Goodreads, I think Biting the Sun has seen a bit of resurgence lately, thanks to the recent dystopia craze, but I haven’t heard mention of it from anyone that I know or from people whose blogs or reviews I follow. It’s still in print as a mass market omnibus, and I think it fits in well with what’s being published today in this sub-genre (and is more unique and better-written than most of it to boot).
Technically, I believe the book was published for the adult market initially, but it’s a natural fit for teens. It features a teen protagonist, but more than that, it’s about growing up, about deciding who you want to be and in what kind of world you want to live—and then making it happen.
(I also gushed about Biting the Sun in my inaugural post at STACKED, which you can read here.)
Have you read and loved this book? Chime in and tell us what you think in the comments!
Kimberly Francisco is a public librarian in Texas. While she has many duties, her favorite by far is managing the library’s collection of books and media for children and teens. At STACKED, she blogs about books and other related topics from a librarian’s perspective. You can find her on Goodreads or follow her on Twitter @KimberlyMarieF.
Want more in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series?
Here are the posts in the series:
- YA/middle-school librarian Jennifer Hubert Swan recommends Better Than Running at Night and Every Time a Rainbow Dies
- YA librarian Kelly Jensen recommends a whole host of books including Sorta Like a Rock Star, First Day on Earth, Frost, and more
- Youth services librarian Liz Burns recommends The President’s Daughter, Flora Segunda, and All Unquiet Things
- YA librarian Angie Manfredi recommends Rats Saw God
- YA librarian Abby Johnson recommends the top five books she read this year: The Berlin Boxing Club; Blizzard of Glass; Dogtag Summer; Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have; and A Girl Named Faithful Plum
- Book blogger Kari Olson from A Good Addiction recommends books including Freefall, I Swear, Like Mandarin, and more
- Book blogger Wendy Darling from The Midnight Garden recommends Ultraviolet, A Certain Slant of Light, and The Reapers Are the Angels
- Book blogger Nicole from WORD for Teens recommends The Lost Years of Merlin
- Librarian and children’s literature professor Laura Lutz from Pinot and Prose recommends New York City novels Kiki Strike, Better Nate Than Ever, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, The Night Tourist, Suite Scarlett, and Undertown
- Book blogger and children’s literature MFA student Mackenzi Lee recommends Millions
- Book columnist and reviewer Colleen Mondor recommends For Liberty
- Book blogger Kellie at the Re-Shelf recommends Andromeda Klein, The Door in the Hedge, Dramarama, Leverage, I Do, Kill Me Softly, Secret Society Girl, and The Wicked and the Just
- Librarian Amber Couch recommends books that get overlooked in her library