Welcome back to the Dark Side, YA Genre

In the last few years, I turned away from the YA genre.  I attributed this to two things – 1) I’m now an adult and 2) the YA genre lost quite a bit of its darkness.  When I was younger, the books for YA were much darker in themes and characterizations.  I recall reading R. L. Stine’s Fear Street Sagas and seeing the villains win the day and the gory plot twists penned by Christopher Pike.  Blood, guts, and devilish deals were par for the course.  While fluffier fare has always been dominant in the YA section, the darker stories have been fewer and far between in recent times.  The Hunger Games felt like a throwback to those times.  But recently I decided to pick up the YA fantasy Finnikin of the Rock and its sequel Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta, and I was blown away by the amazing world building and use of language she employs.  She was able to deftly convey through euphemisms and minor specific instances the darkest and most brutal parts of human nature – rape, slavery, subversion, mass murder, and the near destruction of a civilization.  It was nothing short of brilliant.  Unfortunately, the third and final book, Quintana of Charyn, comes out in Australia next month but the American release won’t be until 2013.  Oh well, I should be done working on my novel and doing my homework for three courses until then.

Now on shelves are at least two books featuring teen girl assassins, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas and Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers.  The former is YA fantasy and the latter is historical paranormal fiction.  Also coming soon is the sequel to Cornelia Funke’s novel Reckless (which I think doesn’t belong in YA because everyone in that story is well over 18 years old, and falls into the same nebulous YA/adult borderline fantasy category that Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett often find themselves in), currently listed as Fearless on GoodReads.  Reckless is Supernatural (Seasons 1 & 2) and the Brothers Grimm meets Through the Looking Glass.  I haven’t had the chance to check out Cassandra Clare yet and my reading list is still a mile high.  In general, I’ve noticed a greater shift toward adventurous, epic YA fantasy novels this past year.  I hope this keeps up, because I’m enjoying every minute of it.

What happened in the year 2000?

Any good literary analyst can tell you that books are snapshots of the time period they’re produced in, in spite of whenever or wherever the book takes place.

I knew that the writing style of historical romances circa the 1970s/1980s was different than the 1990s and then the 2000s.  The 70s/80s romance novels (historical or contemporary) were post second-wave feminism.  The tales from the 80s were skewed more toward dark, violent and tragic.  The 90s retained this grittiness but riding on the third wave of feminism were less abrasive in their violence toward women, and more about making women into complex characters.  The 90s met the take-charge heroine, and so came the fall of the damsel in distress heroine.  In the 2000s, there was a shift to fetish virginity and attach it to nobility of character and a dire need to make a martyr of the heroine with her always trying to save orphans, poor people and fallen women in the most conflated ways.

These are the trends I’ve noticed in the pop fiction, which really says a lot about the evolution of the perception of women by other women over the last two decades.  The current trend skews toward martyrdom and I believe that comes with the more pseudo-sentiment of community we’ve been espousing for the last few years.  The virgin excitement may come from a generation that is used to people not being virgins and finding that era’s norm a peculiarity.

I found these little things worth noting, because they really offer an insight into how women perceive themselves and how the values of a culture change over time.

Top 5 Most Overused Title Words

1. Midnight – An overused word in general when it comes to the internet (I claim guilty on this) because there’s just something cool about the clock striking 12 – time’s up.

2. Iron – Of late, this has been coming up a lot in the titles of books I’m encountering.  Between the fairytale/fantasy and growing steampunk genres, it’s lost it’s strength as a title word.

3. Confessions of…  –  In the early 2000s, “confessions” became a huge catchphrase for marketers.  Everyone was confessing to something – Madonna, Usher, Paris Hilton, shopaholics.  It was the formative years of the age of perverse spectacle that we’re in now, where everyone is expected to reveal everything and be surprised when they’re judged.  I wonder if the 2010s will be the In Denial of… craze.

4. Mad Libs Titles – Since Girl with the Dragon Tattoo exploded onto the scene, there’s been a craze toward elongated titles that sound like they were put together by mad libs.  It’s more of a stylistic rather than wording choice, but it’s pretty overused.

5. Title: A Novel/The True Story of… – This by and large falls under the stupidest titling trends.  Well, thank you for clearing that up, I thought this was a technical manual or autobiography!


Trending 2010

The trend stats from Scholastic for 2010 show more adults reading YA fiction.  Honestly, I’m not surprised.

I was about eighteen when I walked into my local library as usual, and went straight for the YA section like I always had.  I felt guilty because at that point, I was supposed to be reading “adult” novels especially since I had been reading ahead of my grade level for years.  I had tried adult novels when I was around sixteen, but in all honesty I found the quality of adult fiction horrific. I realized I would rather live in YA forever.

As an aspiring YA author, of course I’m going to be a bit biased toward YA.  How did I get there though?

I wanted to grow up and move on to more adult books at that age, though I constantly found something lacking.  There’s something about most adult books that got on my nerves the most — they were often far wordier than necessary and tended to drone on and on with drab details.  I would have to dig my way out of that mess to find the story.  With YA authors, they seem to understand how to get to the story and be more engaging overall.  They can build their worlds better and give their characters more depth.

Another major difference between adult and YA fiction is character growth.  YA literature takes into account the changing sensibilities and social dynamics of their demographic, whereas the adults seem stuck in some sort of rut and it’s more about things that happen to them than internal change.  People don’t stop growing and changing.  I forgot which YA author said this, but she said that she preferred YA because the characters were getting to see the world for the first time and unlike adult characters, YA characters actually have a lot more hope for the future and more adventures waiting for them.

So, I think it’s great that YA is opening up more, because I don’t wanna grow up either.

The Next Big Thing

When I was at NYC Comic Con last October, most of the science fiction and fantasy titles announced involved shifters.  A few years before that, vampires were a bigger deal due to the Twilight craze (I think Team Jacob spurred the shifter trend) which has been winding its way back down.

I think I was lucky to spend my childhood in the late 90s, when it was a bigger, darker scene for sci-fi and fantasy.  The teen horror, sci-fi, and fantasy realms were run by R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike, Tamora Pierce, K.A. Applegate and quite a few other awesome people I can’t recall at the moment.  Nickelodeon aired “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” while Disney Channel had “So Weird.”  Dark stories for teens like The Hunger Games weren’t as uncommon, they were actually closer to the norm for children’s books at the time.

The first time I picked up on SFF trends, it was when Buffy hit the scene.  Suddenly, it was vampires everywhere.  It was at the tail end of that when Harry Potter became popular.  There was also a bit of alien/space opera still lingering from The X-Files and Firefly.  The witch trend was next, which had Harry Potter and Charmed and some other book series I can’t quite recall.  During college I kind of lost track of most media, but I think the it was the Twilight vampire bandwagon again, then followed by few fey stories were big those years.  Shifters/paranormal romance have now overtaken the scene but I feel like that’s winding down.

While I was meandering around the Regency era (I usually didn’t care for historical romance before), I started noticing that more historical paranormal and steampunk novels have been coming out.  Then looking at the Nebula Awards Nominees, there were more than two entries that fall into that category.  For an obscure sub-genre like historical paranormal to have that many entrants is peculiar.  I think that will be the next genre to get major print, especially after Supernatural’s Wild West episode airs, that might just be it’s shotgun to the race.