The world of youth is a world marked by incessant change. It is enough to consider the flux of technological innovation in communications and media, and the impact it has on the language and lives of youth. One challenge for novelists targeting audiences that fall within that age group is to produce literature that manages to address the concerns, issues and cultural markers of the current adolescent population without losing any of the universal relevance that characterizes great literature and ensures that such literature never dates.
Both winning entries of the 2016 edition of the Literary Contest – Novels for Youth, STESSI by Matthew Schembri and ŻEJT FIL-WIĊĊ by Antoinette Borg, heavily reference elements of popular youth culture. Both succeed in linking these and other elements of their narrative to universal themes.
STESSI has as its main argument the deleterious transformation of the protagonist under the sway of a growing obsession with selfies. A relatively recent fad, the selfie becomes a powerful trope in the novel, which the author employs to explore the universal theme of the moment and our awareness of it: the selfie is meant to capture the very moment which, in capturing, it destroys.
The selfie and the representation of the self in social media are contemporary phenomena but the underlying themes that Schembri examines are as old as literature itself. In Ovid’s account of the myth of Narcissus and Echo, the mythological figures lose their bodies – their reality – to an obsession with the self. The choice of name for the protagonist of STESSI, Narċisju, is of course highly significant.
ŻEJT FIL-WIĊĊ can be loosely defined as a detective story. It centers around a traffic accident of no great consequence but which nonetheless raises several questions. As the police and one of the eyewitnesses of the accident try to find answers to the questions, a number of unexpected truths emerge.
Borg explores several universal themes in her novel. An important theme is the nature of the truth, which is made poignant by the recurring motif of the game Truth or Dare, in the painfully embarrassing passage when Shay, one of the protagonists, must reveal his true name in front of the authorities and friends, and in the ‘terrible’ secret that another protagonist, Miguel, is careful to hide away from family and friends.
Matthew Schembri holds a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts and a Master’s degree in Digital Art, both from Malta University. Besides his writing projects, he is very active in the local art scene.
Antoinette Borg is an accounts graduate, who twenty spent years of her life working as a business advisor and dreaming of the day when she would finally get to write a book. ŻEJT FIL-WIĊĊ is her second novel. She is currently working on a third project.