Off the shelf

Stefan Mohamed on weighty question for young adults

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My Bitter Sixteen Trilogy is very much a character study, with monsters. Stanly Bird is, for the most part, a typical small-town 16-year-old (albeit one with a talking beagle for a best friend) – socially awkward, cynical, often stroppy. Then he gets superpowers.

I’ve always loved superhero stories, the impossible abilities and action, so of course I wanted to include those elements in my trilogy. But I was also interested in a psychologically coherent exploration of the effects that superpowers would have on a young person. How would they affect his choices, his ambitions, his view of the world and the company he keeps? How might the world around him change? These are well-worn themes throughout fiction, and with good reason, I think, because it’s consistently compelling territory to play in and there are always new angles to find.

Such power immediately marks a person out as other, so naturally they would seek out fellow outliers. In Stanly’s case, he finds himself welcomed into a group of superpowered oddballs – in Sally Green’s harrowing Half Bad (Penguin, £7.99), the social dynamics of the supernaturally-endowed community are rather more brutal, the abilities themselves as much a curse as an advantage.

And speaking of curses, it’s not long before Stanly finds himself butting heads with people who wish to exploit his power. They might argue that they want to use these advantages to make the world a better place, but who decides what constitutes ‘better’? Questions of morality and methodology come into play, as they do in Charlie Jane Anders’ wonderful All The Birds In The Sky (Titan, £7.99), which explores the tension between fundamentally different types of power, personified by witch Patricia and scientist Laurence.

Indeed, increased power seemingly inevitably leads to conflict. This is fun to explore on a philosophical and psychological level, but you can’t go wrong with a good action scene too. All these angles are covered in Lian Hearn’s evocative, lyrical Across The Nightingale Floor (Picador, £7.99), whose hero Takeo is as handy with a sword as he is with his powers.

Weighty questions, personal dilemmas and cracking fight scenes – basically my ideal combination.

Stanly’s Ghost, by Stefan Mohamed, the third instalment of the Bitter Sixteen Trilogy, is published by Salt

Interact: Responses to Off the shelf

  • Articles and Q&As… – Word-based entity
    24 Mar 2017 13:53
    […] The Stanly’s Ghost promotional tour is underway! I recently did a Q&A for Salt, which you can read here, and another for Bristol 24/7, which can be read here. I also did a guest Off The Shelf article for Big Issue North, talking about the trilogy and three other books I love. You can check that out here. […]

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