Margo Lanagan's Red Spikes is one of the best short story collections of the year in any genre. You might find it on the science fiction, fiction or young adult shelves of your local bookstore or library, depending on the whims of the shelver. These stories are deceptively simple yet this slim collection will be a prized possession long after other epic fantasies have been forgotten.
The author of two earlier story collections, Black Juice (winner of a Printz honor and two World Fantasy Awards) and White Time, Lanagan excels at dropping readers into situations which are seemingly familiar yet disturbingly different. The author is Australian, but only a few of her stories are so tied to place that the reader could say with any certainty where they are set. The story is what matters, not the setting, and Lanagan is one of the pre-eminent storytellers of the moment.
In Winkie, Lanagan throws Wee Willie Winkie on its side, fills it with panic and transforms it into something completely fresh. Hero Vale is a stand-out story, a re-imagining of the heroic quest, in this case beginning in a boarding school and moving to the depths of a forest where a boy discovers he had better be made of sterner stuff than he had previously realized. A couple of stories touch on religious themes. Under Hell, Over Heaven concerns those who ferry souls that have ended up in the wrong place to their rightful home. It is, as might be expected, beautiful and horrifying. In A Feather in the Breast of God, a tiny budgie stands in for God, while in Forever Upward a religion on the edge of extinction rewards one believer's faith. Forever Upward is also one of Lanagan's stories in which the reader feels the ache of characters who want something so badly they can barely stand their daily life. But all of these aspects the characters with overwhelming needs, the religions, the fear are barely describable elements of these 10 amazing stories which will reward the reader with unexpected places, unfamiliar feelings, new experiences. And after reading one, teen readers (and adults, too) will want more and more.