Today I read three pieces that presented an interesting juxtaposition. First my Google Reader feed delivered Joel Bruns’ snarky-but-funny post at The Hub: DIY YA. With a Mad Libs style fill in the blank form, Bruns provides you with the template for creating your own YA bestselling paranormal romance. Bruns was riffing on a blog post by Nikki Grimes, The Trouble with YA Literature Today. She, too, lamented the preponderance of books being published today that seem to be variations on either Harry Potter or Twilight. (BTW: Does anyone know if you’re supposed to italicize series titles? This is the second time it’s come up today).
Next I headed over to Boston. com where I found “Young adult novels heating up the charts.” All those paranormal romances and boarding school fantasy novels? They’re pretty much saving publishing. The article compares the sales of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom (600,000 copies) to Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay (1.3 million). So there’s certainly a monetary incentive for publishers to go after those books that Bruns and Grimes decry. As far as mainstream media covering YA goes, this article was pretty good, especially in its lack of hand-wringing about what these books are doing to our children (making them read, that’s what!). I was annoyed, though, by the reasons given for the popularity of YA books: essentially, YA books center on self-involved protagonists and we are all self-involved these days. “How often” asks the article, “do adults get to think only about themselves”? While indeed there is an inward focus in YA novels, and an emphasis on growth (aka coming of age), neither the teens I know nor the teens I write and read about fit this narrow model.
Taken together it seems that YA is in a state of material growth but depravity of content. While I, too, often roll my eyes at the similarities amongst stories that I come across in review journals, I don’t think we need to declare a state of emergency yet. I once saw television producer Tom Fontana speak and he said, “The best thing about television is also the worst thing about television: there’s something for everybody.” Such is the case with YA literature (and all literature, really). Yes, there is a lot of stuff out there that seems to lack originality, but there’s also much to celebrate: unique voices, unusual stories, characters who become our friends. Below I share my list of cross-over titles that don’t fall into the mold.
First, though, I want to get back to the essential point in Grimes’ piece. The problem, she writes, is not that the unoriginal books exist, but rather what books don’t exist because of them. She makes a strong argument that by writing these copycats, authors are depriving themselves of the opportunity to write what they are truly meant to write:
No one can keep you from pouring your creative energy into cloning someone else’s original idea, of course. But if you do, chances are you’ll have little self or soul left to produce, and enjoy, the brilliance of your own original creations. And, by the way, your original idea is priceless, simply because it is yours. . . .write your own story, not somebody else’s. In the end, you’ll be proud of yourself for having done so.
So here it is, your Read Write list for today: young adult novels that appeal to adults without being cookie cutter copies. As writers, I think we’d all love to appeal to as many readers as possible. Here are books that show you can do so while still following Grimes’ advice to write your own story.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs is innovative not just for his use of found photographs — which are creepy and touching at the same time — but for tying a story of loss, hope, and loneliness to a paranormal thriller. (Note: I’m not actually sure if this was published as YA. Priced at $17.99 it would seem to be, but I think the publishers are keeping it purposefully ambiguous to tie into that crossover market).
When I did study abroad in Northern Ireland, my friends and I would pass around Nick Hornby books. We’d giggle and read aloud our favorite parts; we’d use the humor of the books as inside-jokes amongst ourselves. I wish we’d had Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison then — though we probably would have been kicked off the trains for laughing too loudly.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart. Man, I love this book. In her 2009 Printz honor acceptance speech, Lockhart reported that she’d heard Frankie called borderline psychotic and a feminist hero. I’m definitely in the feminist hero camp. At the risk of being hyperbolic, never has a book dealing with class and gender been so funny.
Sometimes a book that might seem to fit the form — an orphan, a boarding school — is anything but. Circus Galacticus by Deva Fagan is that book. Admittedly I have not read this since it was in drafts, but I adored it — and I don’t think it was just my love of circuses talking. Orphan Trix is stuck at a snobby boarding school, but when the Circus Galacticus comes to town, she sees her chance for escape. The wildly imaginative setting puts this one ahead of the pack.
Finally, I hesitate to put The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean on the list because it is indescribable. Here’s how WorldCat does it:
Taken to Antarctica by the man she thinks of as her uncle for what she believes to be a vacation, Symone–a troubled fourteen year old–discovers that he is dangerously obsessed with seeking Symme’s Hole, an opening that supposedly leads into the center of a hollow Earth.