Young Adult Contemporary Guidepost #3: Genre-benders very welcome!

Posted by August 27th, 2013

guidepost 3 imageEver heard of a little genre-bending book called TWILIGHT by Stephenie Meyer? TWILIGHT took the publishing industry, and then the movie industry, by storm when the series launched a few years ago. Paranormal themes had indeed been dancing around YA lit for many years, but TWILIGHT was the book that took it to the mainstream, in an unforgettable way. Suddenly, readers from middle schools up through senior centers were declaring themselves “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob.” (One mom I know always jokes that she’s “Team Charlie”–you know, Bella’s single dad.)

What we’ve seen since TWILIGHT is that publishers and readers embrace genre-bending Young Adult fiction in a big way. Take the New York Times-bestselling SHIVER trilogy by Maggie Stiefvater: It’s YA Paranormal, but it has many of the the hallmarks of YA Contemporary as well. It definitely takes place in the contemporary world of small town Northern Minnesota. We go to high school with the characters, who wear jeans, backpacks, and rainbow-striped mittens. We ride in cars with them and eat candy and canned soup with them. Their cell phones ring. There’s nothing about this book that isn’t contemporary. It’s actually because SHIVER is so realistic that the haunting paranormal romance also works: once we as readers start to believe in the “real” world that Stiefvater creates in her fiction, we more readily accept the incredible plot twists that ensue (SPOILER ALERT: There are werewolves).

Paranormal romance isn’t the only genre that successful YA books bend into. We’re also seeing YA writers embrace Cozy Mystery (such as MOXIE AND THE ART OF RULE BREAKING by Erin Dionne), Thriller (see 17 & GONE by Nova Ren Suma for an example of a prime-time style crime thriller for a YA audience), and Fantasy (like a new series by Jessica Spotswood called The Cahill Witch Chronicles). Even genres that on first glance don’t seem like they would appeal to young readers have found a home in the wide world of YA: I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU, BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU by Ally Carter is an Espionage “thriller” that takes place in an all-girls boarding school, and Tara Sullivan’s GOLDEN BOY is a YA Contemporary book that reads with such eloquence and gravitas that it could easily find itself on the bookshelf of a Literary Fiction reader.

The whole idea of genre-bending in Young Adult is actually what attracted me to start writing in the genre myself. I’ve always thought of it as an especially fluid area of the bookstore or library. Most of the time while you are browsing books, their literary categories feel rather rigid: Romance to the right; Thriller to the left, Travel straight ahead, Literary Fiction and Classics along the back wall. In Young Adult, wizards are elbow to elbow with cheerleaders, runaways, sixteenth-century princesses, and aliens. Your eye wanders from stories about post-apocalyptic ruin to stories about prima ballerinas in a matter of seconds.

To me, “fluidity” between genres translates as “freedom” as a writer. It’s what I love about reading and writing YA: almost nothing is set in stone. What a wonderful mental space from which to write. You can go from the drama of a small-town football game to a whole other universe not just in the same section of the bookstore, but in the very same book. If there was ever a place to try genre-bending, YA is it!

What about you? Are you genre-bending in the work you’re posting on Book Country, whether it’s YA or for adults? Head over to the Book Country discussion boards and tell us how.

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