No Traveller Returns: The Liminal World as Ordeal and Quest in Contemporary Young Adult Afterlife Fiction


  • Sophie Masson University of New England, Australia



afterlife fiction, liminality, afterworlds, fictional settings


In recent years, fiction specifically set in or about the afterlife has become a popular, critically acclaimed subgenre within contemporary fiction for young adults. One of the distinguishing aspects of young adult afterlife fiction is its detailed portrayal of an alien afterworld in which characters find themselves. Whilst reminiscent of the world-building of high or quest fantasy, afterworlds in young adult afterlife fiction have a distinctively different quality, and that is an emphasis on liminality. Afterlife landscapes exhibit many strange, treacherous qualities. They are never quite what they seem, and this sense of a continually shifting multiplicity is part of the destabilisation experienced by the characters in the liminal world of the afterlife. Inspired by traditional but diverse images of afterlife, afterworld settings also incorporate aspects of dream-space as well as of the real, material world left behind by the characters. The uncanny world of the dead is not just background in these novels, but crucial to the development of narrative and character.

In this paper, it is argued that the concept of liminal place is at the core of the central ordeal and quest of characters in young adult afterlife fiction. It explores how authors have constructed the individual settings of their fictional afterworlds and examines the significance of the liminal nature of the afterworlds depicted in young adult afterlife fiction.

Author Biography

Sophie Masson, University of New England, Australia

Born in Indonesia of French parents, and brought up in France and Australia, Sophie Masson is the award- winning and internationally-published author of over 60 books for children, young adults and adults. Her latest books include Jack of Spades, a young adult thriller (2017), as well as several picture books, See Monkey (2018) , Once Upon An ABC, Two Rainbows, and Building Site Zoo, all published in 2017. Forthcoming in 2019 are a historical novel for middle-grade readers, War and Resistance (Scholastic Australia) as well as three picture books.
She recently completed her PHD in Creative Practice at the University of New England in Australia, where she has been working on the creation of a young adult speculative fiction novel, The Ghost Squad, with an accompanying exegesis examining the cultural, philosophical and narrative context of contemporary young adult afterlife fiction. She has presented her research work at conferences and her scholarly articles on afterlife fiction and other literary and writing topics have been published in journals including TEXT, M/C Journal, The Looking Glass, Bookbird, and New Writing.


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How to Cite

Masson, S. (2018) “No Traveller Returns: The Liminal World as Ordeal and Quest in Contemporary Young Adult Afterlife Fiction”, Papers: Explorations into Children’s Literature, 26(1), pp. 60–81. doi: 10.21153/pecl2018vol26no1art1090.