What if you learned your father was a thief? Would you follow in his footsteps, learn his "trade"? If you were the only one who knew, would you keep his secret?
When 16-yr-old Kia is training to be a universal translator, she is co-opted into traveling as a translator to Malem. This is the last place in the universe that Kia wants to be—it’s the planet where her father caught the terrible illness that killed him—but it’s also where he got the magnificent diamond that only she knows about. Kia is convinced he stole it, as it is illegal for any off-worlder to possess a Malemese diamond.
Using her skill in languages – and another skill she picked up, the skill of picking locks - Kia unravels the secret of the mysterious gem and learns what she must do to set things right: return the diamond to its original owner.
But how will she find out who that is when no one can know that she, an off-worlder, has a Malemese diamond? Can she trust the new friends she’s made on Malem, especially handsome but mysterious 17-year-old Jumal, to help her? And will she solve the puzzle in time to save Agatha, the last person she would have expected to become her closest friend?
Kia is quirky, with an ironic sense of humor, and a loner. Her sidekick, Agatha, is hopeless in languages and naive to the point of idiocy in Kia's opinion, but possesses the wisdom and compassion Kia needs.
On Leaders, Followers and Friends, in YA fiction.
Hello, I’m J. A. McLachlan, the author of The Occasional Diamond Thief. I’m so pleased to be meeting you, and I’d like to thank CCAM and GZM for having me here on Mythical Books today. This blog tour is part of my online launch of The Occasional Diamond Thief, and I’ll have something different at each stop – book excerpts, author and character reveals, vlogs, reviews and blog posts – for you to enjoy.
“Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” ~ Camus
I find this wonderful quote from Camus extremely applicable to writing both speculative fiction and young adult novels.
“Don't walk behind me; I may not lead.” A common theme in fantasy and young adult novels is the reluctant hero. In Lord of the Rings, young Frodo Baggins never intends to lead a journey to destroy the ring; he leaves home only when he’s forced to by the dark horsemen, and his intention is merely to take the ring to the elves and leave the problem of disposing of it to them. Even when he agrees to carry it on the journey to Mordor, he does not lead the group; they lead and protect him.
Similarly, most young adult speculative novels begin with a reluctant hero—male or female—or else a surprised one, who has just found out he/she is the lost heir to a throne, or the only one who can save a mythical land. Harry Potter is just one example of this theme. What makes this theme so appropriate to young adult fiction, is the fact that the teen years are the years we all spend finding out who we are, what we believe, and what we are capable of. The reluctant hero, the non-leader, feels all the self-doubt, confusion and vulnerability of being a young adult.
“Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow.” This, too, is a common trait of young adult and speculative fiction heroes. The willingness to obey and be led which is part of childhood—or an aspect of a well-trained adult group with a common goal—is simply not compatible with the rebelliousness and urge toward independence of adolescence. Young adults are no more eager to follow than they are to lead. Not only do they not follow literally, but they seldom seek or follow advice. Whether they don’t know how to ask for help, or they simply think they have to do it themselves, the result is the same.
When Frodo Baggins decides he can no longer continue with the band that has brought him much of the way toward Mordor, he doesn’t consult with any of them, not even his trusted friend Sam; he simply sneaks away to go off on his own. Harry Potter gets into countless difficult situations because he does not ask for help or advice from his Hogwarts teachers. The obstacles that face most fantasy and young adult protagonists are typically, although not always, the result of not following the lead or the advice of those who could help them.
“Just walk beside me and be my friend.” This describes perfectly the role of the mentor, a predominant figure in speculative and young adult fiction. The typical mentor is either absent or flawed in such a way that he cannot lead the protagonist even though he may know more than the young protagonist. Gandalf has other things to do in Lord of the Rings—the best he can do is periodically check in and rescue or advise Frodo. Haymitch, in The Hunger Games, is an example of a flawed mentor. Katniss may be willing to accept his help occasionally, but she certainly wouldn’t be willing to follow him unquestioningly—it’s not in her nature, and he wouldn’t inspire that response in anybody.
Sometimes the mentor, or friend, who walks beside the hero/protagonist is not in a position to give advice because he/she is equally young and inexperienced, or because of differences between them which make their journeys and goals different. The protagonist may not “buy into” the world view of the mentor/friend, but they can still walk together to a point, and may actively help each other.
In The Occasional Diamond Thief, my 16-year-old protagonist, Kia, is a reluctant hero who does not want to leave home. She scoffs at the claim by an Adept of the predominant religious order, that a “vision” has placed her on Malem, and can only be persuaded to go there under duress. Agatha, the older friend/mentor who goes with her, needs Kia to translate the language for her as much as Kia needs Agatha. Kia would never be led by Agatha, because she does not share Agatha’s worldview or goals, and for the same reason, Agatha would never be led by Kia. Kia resolves her own problems, becomes the hero she never wanted to be, and learns a great deal from Agatha, however.
Camus may not have been talking about speculative fiction and young adult protagonists, but readers and writers of those genres can learn a lot from his quote!
About the author:
J. A. McLachlan was born in Toronto, Canada. She is the author of a short story collection, CONNECTIONS, and two College textbooks on Professional Ethics. But speculative fiction is her first love, a genre she has been reading all her life, and The Occasional Diamond Thief is her second in that genre, a young adult science fiction novel, published by EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing. After over a decade as a college teacher, she is happy to work from home as a full-time author now.
EDGE Publishing has a Thank you Gift for anyone who buys the print version of the book. If they send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with their Amazon receipt, they will receive a copy of a short story that features Kia.
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