Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Lighter Side of YA

After reading Elle Strauss's blog on dark, edgy Young Adult novels Monday, I was curious about this Wall Street Journal article that has everyone in an uproar. In the article, which can be read here, a book reviewer asks why young adult novels have gotten so dark and edgy. And what is the impact on today's teen readers?


Strauss is faced with the same dilemma as many of us. What if we don't write "dark and edgy?" What then? For me, the choice was to head over to middle grade, but not everyone wants to write for the younger audiences. I would venture a guess, though, that this is an issue that faces writers of commercial fiction in many genres. Romance, for instance, has headed to the dark side as well. Vampires, death, darkness...never have we been so interested in entertaining ourselves with things so bleak.


However, young adult is different. These are our kids that are being targeted with this. And it isn't limited to the paranormal. Publishers believe teens want to read about suicide, incest, abuse, rape... And the truth is, publishers may be right. They keep a close watch on what is selling, and I'm sure they do market research to determine what teens want to read.


The WSJ didn't question what teens wanted to read. In fact, the article's writer took us back through the history of dark teen books -- all the way back to The Outsiders. However, I think many of us agree that YA had some much lighter times as well. Perhaps teens were entertaining ourselves with Lois Duncan's story about students who accidentally kill their teacher, but we were also enjoying the sweet teen romances of the time.




There's no denying darker, edgier books dominate the YA market these days. But, to quote Elle's overall question...is there room for something not-so-edgy? Can someone who writes books for teens that aren't doom and gloom make it in this market?


Lighthearted teen books ARE being published. The proof, below, in pictures:










But we all know Elle's question is an important one. Is there room for new YA authors who write the lighter stuff? Should an author give into the trend and risk losing her voice...or buck the trend and hope to somehow squeeze into the market writing the books she wants?

20 comments:

  1. OMG! I loved the Sweet Dreams series. Those were the YA books I devoured (and made Mom buy me everytime we went grocery shopping). BUT I also read the darker, edgier, horror books by John Saul. They weren't YA, but they were about teens.

    I think both types of books are important. As a teen, I liked to balance the dark with the light. Still do. :D

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  2. I worked in a Middle School library for 4 years. I can tell you that young adults are fascinated with the darker, scarier, edgier books!
    With that being said, if a book is well written and the plot is solid, kids are going to read it. Writers should write what they are passionate about.

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  3. I was mainly into the quasi-horror fiction when I was YA. The Christopher Pike and RL Stine stuff.

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  4. I will read anything that keeps my interest. I think you should stick to your voice and take a risk! It is kinda weird that we all only want to read dark stuff, but since the Twilight Saga its all the craze

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  5. I don't know. As a teen, I was very interested in darker things. They resonated with my own thoughts and feelings about purpose, morality, etc.
    Like Stina said, both kinds of books are important, but I do think lighter ones have to be exceptional to be considered. At least right now. This could also be related to chick lit going down the drain.

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  6. Jessica, I could speak VOLUMES about the whole chick lit thing. I wrote romantic comedy in the 90s. I left writing for a few years (well, writing novels anyway) and when I came back, not only had chick lit died, it had taken romantic comedy down with it. I tried writing romances the way I always had and all I got was, "chick lit doesn't sell." It wasn't chick lit! I'd always wanted to write YA anyway (YA had no place in the 90s at ALL unless you wanted to ghost write for established series) so I was more than happy to go to that, but then YA took a turn for the dark side. Now that I think about it, it's interesting that I am so insistent on sticking with my lighter voice that I change the age group I write for rather than trying to write something I don't feel!

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  7. Hmmm...interesting. I didn't read too much as a YA (shocker, I know), but as an adult I prefer the lighter stuff (to read and write). So I really hope there is a market for it.
    I just finished Anna and the French Kiss and LOVED it.

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  8. As many agents and editors advise, it's important to not follow trends and write YOUR story, but always keeping an eye on the market to make sure your book is sellable. Challenging!

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  9. I've been following the drama on YA novels lately.

    There is a small market for dark edgy novels. There are victims out there that need this material. Need to know someone suffers too. Not all YA novels needs to be written in blood.

    Sherman Alexie recently responded to this article by Meghan Cox Gurdon when she pondered why such dark edgy stuff is a good idea. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303657404576357622592697038.html?KEYWORDS=Meghan+Cox+Gurdon
    Here's Alexie's reply.
    http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2011/06/09/why-the-best-kids-books-are-written-in-blood/#
    There is no need to push the limits in YA literature. But it seems that most YA's like shock value. While it may shock, it also decreases the sensitivity to violence and other mature themes. We still need books that are not so dark. Books that empower YA's to face there fears and dilemmas. Books that express good values and virtues.

    I wish there was a way to express pain without being to dark. It is usually the first loves that crumble and lead YA's to the dark side. Wallow in their pain and misery. But there should be books that bring them back to the light.

    All you can do Steph is write what you feel and hope it reaches someone out there. It may seem that authors are headed towards the dark, but hold your ground. You don't want to seem like a johnny-come-lately. That is tacky in itself. Keep writing!

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  10. I'm not sure it's a trend because I remember loving and reading almost every single VC Andrew series as a teen. Those were pretty dark and edgy back then: dealing with suicide, rape, incest, murder, etc... I just think it's getting more attention now.

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  11. That's my sense too, that these books are just getting more attention now. When I was young I could.not.stand. to read books meant for my age group. Now I find I'm reading them and enjoying them, usually by accident,lol I have no idea what that means! But it's fun to read everything~

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  12. I think there is room for all genres in YA. Look at the diversity we have with teenagers and that should answer all questions on this subject. Great post!

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  13. I don't know much about YA books but I think when you lose your voice to compromise it may get a little bit attention but it's not the true brilliance that makes something a classic. I admire you for being in such a tough industry.

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  14. I don't know about vampires, etc but when I was a teenager I enjoyed reading about REAL issues, i.e. body issues, meeting boys, etc. I think there is room on the shelf for both only the darker ones seem to be selling.

    My cousin is a novelist who write YA and the subject matter is somewhere in the middle. http://www.amazon.com/Jane-April-Lindner/dp/0316084204

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  15. I can't intelligently comment on your question, but I do want to know about Anna and her french kiss..if I was 13, I'd be running right out to buy a copy.

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  16. I wonder if Rolling's books have led the way to dark-type stories - Dave

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  17. Is this really new? I'm 34 and when I was a kid, I very much tended toward the dark and edgy. By middle school, I was devouring Christopher Pike and VC Andrews. By my sophomore year of high school, I'd moved on to Sydney Sheldon. He didn't write paranormal, but he certainly wrote dark and edgy. And in 8th grade, I found Linda Lovelace's autobiography in my mother's closet and read it several times and loaned it out to friends who all read it several times.

    It wasn't targeted at our age group, but it was what we wanted to read.

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  18. Honestly, I can only comment on my personal experience at that age. I read Sweet Valley High in fifth and sixth grade, but by seventh, I was devouring VC Andrews and I can't remember the author's name but he basically was the teenager's version of Stephen King, in eighth grade I found my mother's copy of Ordeal (the very detailed and raw autobiography of porn star Linda Lovelace) and by tenth grade, I'd moved well on to Sydney Sheldon.

    ALL of my friends were borrowing my books and devouring them, as well. The "light" reading on my list was The Dark is Rising Sequence, which I guess is tame comapred to Flowers in the Attic, but still pretty dark -- the ultimate battle between good and evil.

    I don't know that you can call this a trend so much as a right of passage. But then, I'm still very much into the edgier stuff. Les Miserables was a masterpiece, but I wanted to kill myself by the end -- or reread the book immediately.

    I'm sure there's a market for lighter reading among YAs, but you have to look for it.

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  19. OK, now I read through the comments -- Christopher Pike is the author I was trying to think of. LOVED him.

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  20. I certainly hope edgy, serious, horrific books are not the only thing kids read these days. Even if it's what's high in demand, there are still those who will be willing to read a 'fun' read. I've always like a fun read. I don't need to be shocked, horrified, or dismayed. All I have to do is pick up a paper or watch the news for that. When I watch TV, it's to entertain. Same thing for reading. I think there will always be an audience for sensible YA. You just have to find the market, and be prepared for the realization one's book is never going to be on the 'Best Sellers' list. But then again, you never know. Kids are fickle, what they like changes through the years.

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