What a great concept! I love the idea of reinvigorating the mythical monsters by reimagining them in a more realistic setting. Another recent YA book that does this well is Necromancing the Stone, Lish McBride’s sequel to Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. While I don’t see this book as a serious Printz contender, it is a great, fun read. In this case, it’s werewolves and were-bears who are the mythical monsters placed in a realistic setting, along with some witches, and, of course, necromancers.
But back to Seraphina for a moment: it occurred to me after I wrote my last post that despite what I said there, Seraphina really is a straight-up fantasy. The world is a medievalish world, which in the fantasy genre mainly means little or no “technology” as we think of it, although there are occasional fantasy elements that seem technological to us (like Orma’s ability to talk with Seraphina through the frolicking kitten on her harpsichord). So why did I think of it as realistic? Well, for one thing, as I said before, the world-building doesn’t get in the way of the story. For another, there are the Vulcanish dragons, who seem more modern, somehow than ordinary fantasy dragons (despite retaining some classic dragon characteristics, like fire-breathing and concern for the hoard). Also, the characters–dragon, human, and half-human–have a modern sensibility to them.
Now, Monstrous Beauty and The Brides of Rollrock Island really do take place in a realistic and more or less modern world (Rollrock felt a little old-fashioned to me, but clearly realistic). I was really intrigued by your (and Kaplan’s) take on the monsters as expressions of human fears and longings. And I also wondered if one of the reasons these kinds of books (including the trends in recent years of books on vampires, we’re-beasts, zombies, etc.) are popular with teens and work well as YA fiction is that teens see themselves as set apart and even, yes, frightening, in the same way as these monsters.
You mentioned the disgust that Seraphina and the other half-dragons felt about their scales being a metaphor for adolescent attitudes toward their bodies, and I think that extends to the whole concept of monsterhood. Teens know that adults often find them scary and disgusting (that hair! Those clothes! That body art! And they’re noisy! And they run in packs!), so how hard is to envision themselves as monsters–and, preferably, powerful monsters. At the same time, many of these books show teens defeating the monsters–which, I suppose, is another metaphor.
So, just some random thoughts, brought on by your post. And, by the way, in regard to the other fantasy books you mentioned, I have started Raven Boys, and it seems to fit into the same mold as Diviners: realistic setting, but characters with psychic abilities. Also, I have read about half of Long Lankin and I’m not entirely sure, but it may fit in the mythic monster category.
Guess I’d better get back to my reading!