Literature

Young-adult novel by Kjelnæs nominated for Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize

Faroese writer Marjun Syderbø Kjelnæs. Photo credits: Finnur Justinussen.

‘Sum rótskot’, a young-adult novel written by Marjun Syderbø Kjelnæs, is among 14 childrens and young-adult books nominated for the 2021 Nordic Council Children and Young Peoples Literature Prize.

The novel is about four friends who come together in a struggle to save the world from looming climate change. Fríða, the protagonist, is a young and healthy, but careful and introverted girl who stays, as far as possible, in the background. However, when one day in school she re-encounters her childhood friend Miriam, who has moved to Denmark several years previously, things start to change.

Miriam suffers from cystic fibrosis, but is outgoing and full of drive, and together the two friends plan how to set things up so that they can convince the world, and in particular their parents, that it is time to take climate change seriously.

Together with their friends Pax and Steffan, who is also Miriams brother, they make big plans. Miriam keeps a logbook, and this plays an important role when she is hospitalized and Fríða is given the task of taking care of it.

The logbook becomes the gateway for Fríða and the reader into Miriams thoughts and emotional life. It is used narratively to switch between time, place and points of view in the book, so that the reader gradually experiences the individual stories of the four friends, and to deliver the books message, which is expressed in a Thunberg-inspired speech that Miriam has written for a climate strike, but has never managed to hold.

The book is in tune with the ecocritical tendencies in the literature of our time, and is highly topical,” the Nordic Council stated. “However, the book is more than just a climate novel; it is also, perhaps to an even greater degree, a story about what concerns people — both adults and the young — today. It is a book about how young people navigate in a world of challenges, dealing with such topics as climate change, screen time, alcohol abuse and grief, as well as large and complex topics that have to do with identity, sexuality, science and faith.”

This is all done in Marjun Syderbø Kjelnæsrecognizable, slightly subtle and warm style,” the Nordic Council added. “The book has intertextual references and allusions to literary, scientific and religious texts. Through them, this short, quickly-read book is rich in its presentation and lends itself to several readings that provide new insights with each reading.”

“The title ‘Sum rótskot’ (‘As a Root’ — not translated into English at this point) is a biblical reference, referring in several layers to the prophecy in the Book of Isaiah that the savior of the world will come as a root out of a dry ground”. In other words, it is not those of whom we have the highest expectations who can be expected to save the world. The four young people make an attempt. They take matters into their own hands. However, it has consequences that lead them into a dilemma: Just how far are we willing to go to save the world?”

The book was published in the Faroe Islands in August 2020 by Bókadeild Føroya Lærarafelags.

Marjun Syderbø Kjelnæs is a Faroese prose writer, poet and playwright, born in 1974. Since her debut in 2000, she has written for adults, children and young adults.

Her YA novel ‘Skriva í sandin’, which was published in 2010 (‘Write in the Sand’ — not translated into English at this point) won the Nordic Childrens Book Prize and the White Raven in 2011, and was nominated for the Nordic Council Children and Young Peoples Literature Prize in 2013.

The author has been awarded several prizes and scholarships and her works have been translated into the various Nordic languages as well as English, French and German.

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