Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Discussion: Trends in YA - Yay or Nay?

[feel free to ignore my rambling and scroll right down to the questions]

I want to talk about trends. In YA, that is… not just in general. (Why did I feel the need to clarify that?)

Trends in YA have been starting to bother me recently. It didn’t used to bother me at all - I thought it was awesome because it meant if I liked something and it became a trend then there would be plenty more books that I could read with more of the same.

But recently…. Recently… this:

Yes. Simon Cowell facepalm. That’s how trends are making me feel recently.

Specifically: supernatural/fantasy trends. For some reason it doesn’t bother me with contemporary fiction… maybe because even if the concepts have been written to death, there is still a lot of originality to be found in the execution of the story. With fantasy/supernatural, somehow that originality is harder to achieve (although there are the rare gems that manage to do it).

I used to love vampires. Ever since reading Dracula when I was a mini-Lanna (probably too young to really be reading books like Dracula, but hey, I didn’t turn out so bad -- aside from my hoping for Peter Pan to show up at my window to take me away to Never land morphing into mini-me wishing a vampire would show up at my window and bite me. That’s normal… right?). I even had a few vampire stories of my own outlined/started/one half finished.

But then… Twilight happened. The dreaded T word… with all of the sparkly C-words (just realised how wrong that could sound. Cullen’s. I meant Cullen’s!). And after that, there was such a flood of vamp-lit in the YA section, it’s insane. And it’s still happening.

And people seem to be trying to recreate the Twilight-effect substituting vampires for other mythical creatures. Or at least, that’s how publishers are making it seem when they advertise nearly every supernatural romance as “the next Twilight” or making comments like “if you love Twilight, wait till you read [insert title here]”

I wonder if trends have always been as obnoxious as they are now or if I was just oblivious to it before -- in my head it all goes back to Twilight. Sure, trends were around before and that’s to be expected but Twilight seemed to make them so much worse... or perhaps I just wasn't aware of it in literature before. I expected it with clothes and movies and music and TV shows and toys -- books, people who read books, I guess they were always shoved into a different catagory of my brain (smarter, not the type to follow trends).

It’s like there was vampires. And then more vampires. And then more vampires… and then the vampires were substituted with werewolves and then we got more of those and then faeries and angels seem to be the new thing now too.

The Hunger Games seems to have triggered some sort of dystopian YA lit tsunami that will be hitting early this year-2011... Although, I’m excited for that because most of the books sound so fantastic and, like with contemporary fiction, dystopians have so much more opportunities for originality.

This has been such a ramble-y post, sorry for that.

But basically, to sum up: trends are starting to annoy me. And the fact that they’re starting to annoy me, well… annoys me.

I don’t want to miss out on reading a fantastic book just because I’ve read the summary and Simon-Cowell-facepalmed at the fact it’s about an overused mythical creature or an overused plot (the supernatural love triangle/the human girl and the mysterious supernatural boy/the human girl who turns out to be a special and unique little snowflake… and then the mysterious boy shows up to fall in love with her and introduce her to a world of myth and magic -- they’ve all been used to death).

It annoys me even more because I write. I don’t write well. I don’t intend to try and get published -- but it’s still annoying when I’ve outlined/started a story and then a few months later it becomes a trend or the concept of it pops up in another book and then it shows up in more books and then I feel like such an epic failure for lacking in originality… even though I thought up the story before the dreaded trend happened.

I don’t blame authors for trends really, for the reason I mentioned above -- just because they’re writing about something that has become popular does not mean they wrote about that something BECAUSE it was popular… I blame publishers, but at the same time I understand where they’re coming from -- a great book happens and they want more of the same so it’ll sell, when there’s a demand for something of course they’re going to publish it. But I kind of wish that they would publish more original stuff to dilute the trends and clichés on the YA shelves.

Trends I wouldn’t mind happening right now: more books like Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma (a book banners dream), which tackles the taboo subject of consensual incest. Books like that are so moving and powerful and if there were more books like that out there, maybe it’d make society rethink where they stand on certain issues. Well, I wouldn't want it to be a "trend" but I'd like to see more books tackling the issue. Books that can challenge or even change your beliefs or make you rethink a situation or the way you see the world. Books that can make a person more open minded.

As well as that, I’d like to see way more lit that would get the panties of book banners all in a twist because really, most of the books that those ignorant idiots try to get banned are the ones worth reading -- the most moving, most powerful books. Books that are honest about the world and humanity.

Books about gays/lesbians/bisexuals… and not just ones about the struggle with their sexuality, can’t there be more books about them where they’re out of the closet and not ashamed? Can’t they be more than just the minor characters for a change? Why can’t there be an awesome openly gay/lesbian character who is like… a mermaid and he/she has to save the world from killer squid (okay, maybe not that plot exactly, but do you see my point?).

Books that don’t shy away from sex… and I don’t mean erotic fiction - because that just glorifies it and makes it unrealistic. YA lit recently is getting way, way, way better with the issue of sex so they’re heading in the right direction. And book banners hate that, which makes me a very happy Lanna (lets face it, we're never going to get rid of the people who try to ban books -- so I'll happily settle for irritating them with the success of the books they're so against).

I want a supernatural book where the love interest isn’t this super hot, super cool, super mysterious and witty and sarcastic guy -- why can’t the angel/vampire/pixie/faerie/werewolf/[insert latest trend here] be dorky? Why can’t he be awkward and shy? Why can’t the romance in the story be based on something other than some love at first sight/instant attraction/shallower than a kiddie pool draw? Can’t the main character get to know the guy first -- get to like him, then love him and then the butterflies in her stomach start misbehaving at the thought of him because of that and not just because he’s your typical pretty/bad boy who makes all the girls swoon?

Fairytale retellings... with a twist. I want subverted fairytales -- ones that take a well loved story and update it and twist it and change it until we get something awesome and original but still managing to maintain what made the original fairytale so awesome (I think maybe Jackson Pearce did this with Sisters Red, I haven't read it yet but I own it, we'll see).

I’m doing the rambling thing again… sorry.

What are your thoughts on trends? Yay or nay? Are they annoying or awesome? Can you get too much of a good thing when it comes to trends in YA?

What things would you like to see in YA books right now?



  1. Well, I personally agree with you about the vampire thing, but I also know YA readers (especially teens themselves) who love it. Completely disagree with you about the incest trend, but I speak as someone close to someone else who has had this be a factor in her life and it about destroyed her. Consenual incest? Please. Yuck.

    I kind of like ... stories. Stories about teens and their lives and what happens in them, etc. That's the attraction of this YA book, "A Wind in Montana," by Mitch Davies. It starts out with one of the main characters puzzling and worrying about a pink slip summoning him to the counselor's office. What teen hasn't been there? And it presents the choices about sex, and the discovery of sex, realistically, something else I enjoyed. Can't a YA book simply be a good read?

  2. Great post today! I couldn't agree more with what you are saying!

    Walking down the YA aisle at the local book stores depresses me. Most of the lit looks very dark, very "vampire-ish" or it seems the female characters are all about beign rich and trendy. Anything in small amounts is good - but these aren't small amounts. It's almost every single book you see!

    As a writer, I would have to say that much of the problem is the publishers. If you write something different, they don't find it "marketable" and aren't interested. No matter what type of genre it is - the big publishers have an idea of what they think will sell and that's pretty much all they'll accept. Anything outside of that and they see it as too big of a risk. I think this is one reason that indie publishers are becoming more successful. They are much more willing to take a chance on something different.

    I'm excited to see the changes that are coming in publishing. The major publishers are losing their hold on getting to "pick and choose" what society will read. Gone are the days of 100 people or less determining what will fill the bookshelves of an entire nation. With e-books, indie and self-publishing, readers can pretty much find whatever it is they are looking for. Then, it's up to the reader as to whether or not something is relevant and worth reading.

    Imagine that.... allowing people to think for themselves!

  3. I would like to see something less formulaic, you know? I mean, there's only so many supernatural elements you can have in a story, but I'm bloody tired of the age-old, quirk girl meets hot guy who suddenly is fiercely protective...they fall in love, yadda yadda.

    I want to see something real, and tangible, and something that makes me feel something for the characters - something that mimics what happens in real life.

  4. I'm totally with you in this subject!
    Trends are becoming annoying.
    Every time I enter a book shop of the books in the Top 10 section are about vampires, supernatural love triangles...
    I mean, I like vampire stories (probably you didn't expect an answer to the question about the vampire showing on your window, but I'll give it anyway, after I read Dracula and other vampires books I wanted a vampire to show up in my window too), sometimes I read them, but I like other stories with different and taboo content too!
    I think that YA-lit needs to let vampires rest for a little and pick up other ideas!

  5. The trend thing is always going to be there - it's just what marketing and publishers are going to do - hop on the latest cash train. A lot of stuff that's become popular in the Twilight wave has actually been out forever and has just had a resurgence. I bet there's similar stuff happening in other genres.

    I think as a writer the trends are obnoxious. I find myself defending my own work, "No, it's nothing like Twilight", which is incredibly frustrating. If you write something with any feature similar to a popular book/tend then you find yourself automatically compared to it - for better or worse.

    I feel like all the trends do is make it really hard to be a reader. Not all vampire/incest/dystopia is created equal. So the trends bring a lot of less than stellar stuff to the forefront and readers end up suffering through some really bad stuff that otherwise would have gotten buried. I suppose the opposite is true too though.

    I guess I'm opposed to trends, but I know they aren't going away so I'm just trying to figure out how to wade through them - and keep my eye rolling to a minimum.

  6. @Liz, I didn't explain the incest thing fully in the post - what I meant by that is... well, I read Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma and it made me really think about my beliefs and where I stood on the issue -- and I love books with the power to do that.

    I don't have to like the idea of consensual incest -- and if I think about the matter subjectively, taking into account my feelings for my own family, then it grosses me out... but objectively, that book made me realise that my "love is love" way of thinking when it comes to things like gay marriage also apply to consensual incest.

    I don't think they should be allowed to have biological children, because there is a legitimate reason against that -- but I don't think the law should have the right to control say, a brother and sister who are in love with each other... it shouldn't be something they could get thrown in jail for.

    So that's what I meant by mentioning that -- consensual incest is a taboo subject... people hear the word incest and instantly think of rape and abuse, usually an older male abusing a child female relative or something... but it's not always like that and I don't think it should be considered a crime if it's a mutual and consensual thing.

    There was a time where books about gay romance would've been a total taboo subject... but people are more open minded about that stuff now. Maybe 100 years from now they'll be more open minded about other things too.

    If with the friend you mentioned it was consensual incest and not the abuse kind -- well, maybe if it wasn't such a taboo subject and people were more open minded, it wouldn't have affected her so badly. (If it was abuse, then that is a different thing entirely)

    Basically, I wouldn't want it to become a "trend" -- but I would like to see more books addressing the issue.

  7. Personally, I'd like to see a trend of more literary fiction hitting the YA shelves. There have been a few, but literary just isn't that popular. I would also love to see more historical novels. Or better yet, how about LITERARY historical novels? That would make me so incredibly happy. Whatever happened to enjoying reading for the beautiful language and not just the killer plot? I love Maggie Stiefvater for giving us a throwback to the languid, eloquent prose of the "old days," but I'd like to see a more classical literary work. I'm thinking this will never happen, but I can dream, right?

    I actually think homosexual/gay/lesbian lit. is gaining popularity, so you might see more of those. I don't think, however, that it will ever hit a "trend" since so many people oppose that kind of lifestyle. You mention sex, and I think that's an interesting issue. I'm sick of seeing it glorified and romanticized OR the girl just gets pregnant. There are consequences other than pregnancy of having sex too early and/or with the wrong person. I'd like to see more of the emotional struggle of I-just-gave-someone-a-part-of-me-and-now-they-hate-me or what-have-I-done kind of thing.

    LOVED this post! And I just hope that dystopian books don't go the way of the vampire ones and we get all these crappy 1984 wannabes.

  8. Interesting post, I like it. I remember I read a post something similar, but also different. Said post also wanted more than hot guys and more of the guys that you wanted to see in YA.

    Pretty much when I go the YA aisle of my bookstore, there one part paranormal, with the really *dark dark* covers that take up more space than the Contemp or Dystopian/Fantasy/Historical section. There will be a lot of trends to come and go in Paranormal YA for sure.

    Dystopian being a trend is true, more Dystopians are coming out (this is a good thing for me becaues it's my favorite genre) but there are a lot of different original ideas like becoming a ticking time bomb, Giver-like societies, society diving itself, and etc. But despite this, I'm pretty sure it won't be that big of a bandwagon because you have to plan a lot for Dystopians and they are something that make you think. So it won't be as strong as the Twilight trend.

    There are a lot of edgy YA books (ones that probably would be banned due to it's 'taboo' subject) but I don't see incest (the one that we are both referring to) much or at all. But it definitely will be a favorite to ban probably.

    I wonder if there's going to be more literary fiction because I read one and it was unlike anything I'd ever read so I wouldn't mine seeing more of it. Historical fiction too.

  9. Well, there is a reason that people think abuse when they hear the word incest, because that's generally what happens in all incest cases. How do I know this? I work for an agency that deals with clients who have experienced incest every single day. I'm not sure I believe that consensual incest exists. Why? Because of power and dynamic in relationships. Ultimately, there is a power imbalance, which may lead to shoddy consent. Not to mention Stockholm Syndrome, where people look at their abuser in a positive light, because the abuse has been going on so long and because they have been groomed whether they realize it or not. There's also the practice of grooming, where one basically, where they build trust at the beginning of the relationship. I honestly think incest should remain illegal. Just think about what would happen if it was legal? Say a brother and a sister go to court. The sister was sexually abused by the brother. The brother could say it was consensual. Then you get into a he-said she-said. The legal system is insane, and doesn't always work for those who are sexually victimized. Now, imagine the quandry that creates if we legalize incest.

    I say this from real life/work experience, I'm not pulling this out of the air or from fiction.

    However, I do quite like the dystopia trend. I feel like those books really make you think.

  10. @April...

    If you work for an agency that deals with clients who have experienced incest then of course you wouldn't have seen any cases of consensual incest (who would report that? If you're in love with someone you shouldn't be, a love you could be thrown in jail for, then of course you're not going to be broadcasting it -- and you don't need to go somewhere for help or counselling or whatever for it), but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

    Most of the time, it is abuse - but there are times where it's just two people who have feelings for each other and happen to be related (more likely to happen in cases where they weren't raised together).

    Consensual incest definitely exists -- and if you read Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma then you would understand the context that I'm talking about, I don't mean where an older relative manipulates a younger one into a sexual relationship or anything.

    I didn't say that incest should be legal, it most definitely shouldn't -- BUT, I do think that if two adults are in a consensual relationship then it's not something they should be thrown in jail for... I'm not saying incest is okay, I'm not encouraging it, I'm just saying that in the rare cases like that, it shouldn't be a crime.

    Again, read Forbidden to see what I mean because you're kind of proving my point on how society views incest -- when you think of it, you think of abuse and that there is no way it could be consensual and if it seems that way then child grooming or stockholm syndrome had something to do with it and that's really not the case.

    And not all of what I think is based on fiction - I use Forbidden as an example because specifically this post was about books. I've seen real cases of consensual incest too (not many, it's in the extreme minority -- but that's my point, CONSENSUAL incest, where BOTH parties are over the age of consent and say it was consensual shouldn't be something people are thrown in jail for... I'm not saying "all incest should be legal").

  11. Well, I wouldn't a whole spate of incest books, but I'm with you on wanting books that test our already held beliefs. Something new and different. I'm bored of paranormal romances with vampires/werewolves/fallen angels. It is getting tired.

    I'd definitely like to see more LGBT books and more books with a more multicultural cast of characters.



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