Columns > Published on June 15th, 2012

The Next Big Thing In YA

Every time I walk into the YA section of a book store and see a shelf labeled "Paranormal Romance," I cringe. That's not to say that I don't enjoy books with paranormal elements, and obviously I love me some swoon. But this genre has overwhelmed young adult literature with a glut of mediocre novels featuring weak heroines and even weaker writing, and I've been praying for a new trend to kick paranormal romance to the curb.

For a while, dystopia definitely seemed like a good contender. It brought strong protagonists and fascinatingly effed up worlds into the hands of readers, and with the success of The Hunger Games, it proved once and for all that dystopia is totally the new vampire.

But like any fad, it eventually wore out its welcome by producing hundreds of copycats with increasingly cliched plots and underdeveloped characters. In order to stand above the dystopian fray, authors resorted to cobbling together wilder and wilder visions of the future, resulting in stories that are not only far-fetched but also completely unrelatable.

Provided he or she has talent, it's still completely possible for an author to create a paranormal romance or a dystopia that would capture our collective imagination. But in general, I'm ready for a change. In the words of Willow, "Bored now."

Thankfully, there are some new possibilities on the horizon. According to Publisher's Weekly, the key words at the Bologna Children's Book Fair back in March were "thriller" and "science fiction." There was also an increasing interest in standalone novels, which is a relief to hear, because if I have to read another cliffhanger that exists for the sole purpose of making me purchase the next book, I'll ask Peeta for some of those poison berries.

However, the YA Editor's Buzz Panel at last week's Book Expo of America told a different story. Take a look at the books that were pimped out:

'Crewel' by Gennifer Albin

While women in our day and age may not appreciate being called spinsters, in the land of Arras, it is a girl's highest calling. Spinsters weave the very fabric and time of human lives, and Adelice Lewys was born with the gifts to be one. But unlike the rest of her friends, she doesn't want to control people, and she certainly doesn't want to be controlled by the Guild. Unfortunately for Adelice, she may not have a choice.

[amazon 0374316414 inline]

 

'Skinny' by Donna Conner

Fifteen-year-old Ever Davies weighs over 300 pounds, and a voice inside her head continuously reminds her that she'll never be loved. That voice, which Ever has named Skinny, persists, even after Ever undergoes gastric bypass surgery. As Ever attempts to gain confidence by trying out for the school musical, she must fight to overcome Skinny by realizing the power of her own, beautiful voice.

[amazon 0545427630 inline]

 

'What’s Left of Me' by Kat Zhang

In a world where everyone is born with two souls, Eva and Addie are tighter than twins. But since only one soul is allowed to survive childhood, they've decided to keep Eva a secret, resulting in an illegal hybrid. If they're discovered, they'll be locked away for life, but Eva and Addie are willing to do whatever it takes to make Eva whole again.

[amazon 0062114875 inline]

 

'Colin Fischer' by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz

From the screenwriters of X-men: First Class and Thor comes the story of Colin Fischer, a boy with Asperger's syndrome, who becomes an unlikely ally to the school bully, Wayne Connelly. After Wayne is accused of blowing up a birthday cake at school, Colin begins an investigation to prove his innocence and learn more about the vast spectrum of human emotion.

[amazon 1595145788 inline]

 

'Skylark' by Megan Spooner

Stuck within an energy dome in an environmentally ravaged world, Lark Ainsley is one of the many teens set to be "harvested" for her energy. But after a harrowing series of experiments, she discovers that she's a Renewable, able to recreate her energy, and therefore a valuable resource that the government will pursue at any cost.

[amazon 0761388656 inline]

 


Let's do a quick tally.

Number of dystopian stories: 3 out of 5 (Crewel, What's Left of Me, Skylark)
Number of trilogies: 3 out of 5 (Crewel, What's Left of Me, Skylark)
Number of characters with ridiculous names: 3 out of 5 (Adelice, Ever and Lark?! Forget vampires. This is the trend that needs to die most immediately.)

Arguably, some of these dystopian novels could be classified as science fiction and/or thrillers. But whatever happened to a good, old fashioned mystery? (I guess Colin Fischer falls into that category, but it seems too much like a rip-off of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.) Or what about an imaginative adventure set in space, with a government that's actually not out to get you?

If I had my druthers, I'd love to see thrillers and mysteries ascend to the throne of YA fads. It's been a while since I've read a good nail-biter with a teen protagonist, and solving crimes and fighting bad guys requires strong, intelligent heroes, which is a trend I obviously want to continue in young adult fiction.

But I'm also a big believer in the power of contemporary, realistic stories. While Skinny doesn't exactly ring my bell, I'm happy to see that werewolves and angels haven't completely swallowed the modern day, ordinary teenager. After all, coming of age is tricky enough without pesky vampires getting in your way, and at its core, young adult literature is all about the exhilaration and the pitfalls of adolescence. That's not a trend, it's a fact, and I hope that more and more authors will embrace that truth in their writing.

So while it looks like dystopia will reign as king for a while longer, hopefully thrillers, mysteries and contemporary novels will put on a good fight. And if you have any differing theories, or a trend you'd personally like to surface in YA, let me know in the comments!

About the author

Sarah lives in Austin, TX, where she programs screenings at the Alamo Drafthouse and coordinates events at The Highball, a playground for adults. Tired of feeling like a creepy old lady in the bookstore YA section, she created Forever Young Adult to provide grown-ups with a community where they can gush about young adult literature without shame. In addition to crushing on fictional teenage boys, Sarah enjoys fancy cocktails, dance parties and macaroni and cheese.

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