Carnival and the Paranormal: Queer Identities in YA Novels

Simpson, J. (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


In describing medieval carnivals, Bakhtin writes that they were times when normal societal structures and rules were interrogated, even suspended. In the context of Young Adult (YA) literature, carnival as a theory uses such interrogation to explore the experience of a protagonist in becoming powerful (equal to the adult, no longer inhibited) instead of powerless ('oppressed' by the adult). Through my analyses of the YA novels Release and Carry On, I demonstrate how carnival theory - that is, the tension between suppression and freedom - and use of the paranormal illuminate our understanding of these books and, more generally, of YA literature itself.

Release by Patrick Ness is a new YA novel in which the protagonist, who is gay, escapes the 'oppression' of his religious, strict family and experiences the freedom inherent in the carnival spirit. Similarly, in Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, the protagonist, who also is gay, finds freedom only by 'escaping' to a magical school and confronting his greatest fear. In each novel, use of the paranormal can be read as anti-normative and queer, and my analyses allow me to demonstrate how power and marginalised identities are constructed in YA novels.
Period24 May 2018
Event titleReading YA Fiction
Event typeConference
LocationBirmingham, United Kingdom