Larbalestier, Justine

views updated

Larbalestier, Justine

Selected Writings

Author and editor

B orn c. 1968 in Sydney, Australia; daughter ofanthropologists; married Scott Westerfeld (an author), 2001. Education: University of Sydney, research fellow in English, early 1990s.

Addresses: Agent—Jill Grinberg Literary Management, 244 Fifth Ave., 11th Fl., New York, NY 10001. Home—Sydney, Australia, and New York, NY.


F irst book, The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction published by Wesleyan University Press, 2002.


J ustine Larbalestier is a writer of science-fictionand fantasy novels for young adults who divides her time between her native Australia and New York City. The title of a 2007 Village Voice article described Larbalestier and her husband, author Scott Westerfeld, as “the East Village ‘It’ Couple of Young-Adult Lit.” Taken together, noted Carol Cooper, the Village Voice journalist, their books “send the same fundamental message—take time to find out who you are, because individuality is power. They suggest that human nature is inherently flawed, but that properly understood, even these flaws can be turned to your advantage.”

Born in Sydney, Australia, to a pair of anthropologist parents, Larbalestier lived in several Australian locales during her formative years, including two Aboriginal settlements of the island nation’s Northern Territory state. As a result of this transience during her earlier years, Larbalestier wrote on the biography that appears on her Web site, “the world has always seemed an odd and fascinating place to me.” In the late 1990s, she moved to New York City, where she met Westerfeld at a science-fiction reading in a bar.

Larbalestier’s first book was a work of nonfiction, The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction (2002), which was published when she was a research fellow with the Department of English at the University of Sydney. Its chapters discuss the role of women writing in the genre and how female characters are portrayed by male writers. Writing and researching it, she noted in her introduction, had taken up much of the past decade of her life, and took her to Toronto, San Francisco, and New York City in order to research historical collections of science fiction in each of the cities. “Larbalestier offers a fresh look, without bitterness, at science fiction’s lengthy engagement with issues of sex, sex roles, and gender rivalry,” asserted Cooper in another Village Voice issue, who summarized the work as “a solid compendium of rare facts and fannish artifacts.” The Battle of the Sexes was nominated for a Hugo Award, the annual honors given out to the year’s best science fiction writing.

Larbalestier moved on to young-adult fiction when she learned that Penguin Books was launching a new young-adult imprint called Razorbill. She submitted a proposal with three chapters of what be came the first book in her “Magic or Madness” trilogy. The eponymous debut was named one of the top ten fantasy-science fiction reads of 2005 for young adults by Booklist. Magic or Madness is told in the first-person narrative voice by 15year-old Reason Cansino, an Australian teen who comes from a long line of wizards, witches, and other practitioners of magic. Reason’s given name, however, is a reflection of her mother’s strong opposition to magic, a wariness with which Reason has been in-culcated from an early age. When her mother suffers a mental breakdown, Reason is taken in by her witchy grandmother, Esmeralda. In Esmeralda’s kitchen, Reason discovers a portal that suddenly teleports her from Sydney to New York City. “Readers looking for layered, understated fantasy will follow the looping paths of Larbalestier’s fine writing with gratitude and awe,” asserted Booklist critic Jennifer Mattson. Larbalestier’s fiction debut also earned a glowing review from School Library Journal’s Melissa Moore, who noted that “Larbalestier’s sense of place and refreshing exploration of magic as a force for both good and evil make this novel unusual.”

The second book in the “Magic or Madness” trilogy was 2006’s Magic Lessons, which follows the further adventures of Reason and her friends Tom, who is Esmeralda’s apprentice, and Jay-Tee, her New York City pal. A romance with Jay-Tee’s brother Danny results in an unplanned pregnancy while Reason is still struggling to solve the conundrum presented by a sword given to her by a mysterious Cansino ancestor. “Larbalestier creates complex relationships among her characters,” wrote Beth L. Meister in a School Library Journal review.

The title character in Magic’s Child—the final book in the trilogy—is Reason’s newborn, and in this third installment Reason struggles with the knowledge that if she chooses to use the sword that be-stows her with magical powers, she will die before reaching her twentieth birthday. If she avoids using her inherited gifts, she will likely descend into madness, as her mother did. As Mattson noted in a Booklist review of this 2007 title, there were some flaws in the resolution of the trilogy’s multiple plot-lines, but other elements, such as the characterizations and dialogue, “give reason to hope for more from Larbalestier as her storytelling powers mature.”

In an interview that appeared on the Web site Cyn-sations, Larbalestier admitted to writer Lawrence Schimel that writing a trilogy was tricky. “I asked several people to read Magic Lessons [book 2 of the trilogy] who hadn’t read book 1 to see if they could follow the story,” she recalled. “Arrogantly, I was expecting them to tell me it worked just fine on its own. Nope. I had to do several major rewrites after I got their comments.” Schimel also echoed the sentiments of most reviewers in noting that the dialogue and narrative voices that Larbalestier crafts for her teen characters seem pitch-perfect, and asked how she achieved that feat. “Like many people, my teenage years weren’t exactly fabulous,” she replied. “They are etched deep in my memory, accessing them is dead easy. It’s being an adult that’s hard.”

Larbalestier has also served as editor of Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century, a 2006 anthology of science-fiction tales dating back to the 1920s, and another novel, titled How to Ditch Your Fairy, which was published by Blooms-bury in 2008. She and Westerfeld—author of the popular young-adult “Uglies” series about a world in which plastic surgery is compulsory—wed in 2001 and have homes in Sydney and New York City, but they also enjoy settling in at remote locales in Central or South America to write their books. In the Cynsations interview, Schimel asked Larbales-tier about being married to a fellow writer, and she replied they were only “competitive about stupid things, like, who can spit the farthest, bounce the highest, predict cricket scores, stuff like that, but never about writing.”

Selected Writings

“Magic or Madness” trilogy

Magic or Madness, Penguin/Razorbill (New York City), 2005.

Magic Lessons, Penguin/Razorbill, 2006.

Magic’s Child, Penguin/Razorbill, 2007.


The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction (nonfiction), Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 2002.

(Editor) Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century, Wesleyan University Press, 2006.

How to Ditch Your Fairy (novel), Bloomsbury (New York City), 2008.



Booklist, March 15, 2005, p. 1286; April 15, 2005, p. 1467; April 1, 2006, p. 33; April 15, 2007, p. 38.

Publishers Weekly, May 20, 2002, p. 52.

School Library Journal, March 2005, p. 213; October 2005, p. S82; June 2006, p. 161; July 2006, p. 36; May 2007, p. 136.

Village Voice, July 16, 2002; December 18, 2007.


“Biography,” Justine, (May 8, 2008).

“SCBWI Bologna 2006 Author Interview: Justine Larbalestier,” Cynsations, (May 15, 2008).

—Carol Brennan