The Next Big Thing In YA

Every time I walk into the YA section of a book store and see a shelf labeled "Paranormal Romance," I cringe. That's not to say that I don't enjoy books with paranormal elements, and obviously I love me some swoon. But this genre has overwhelmed young adult literature with a glut of mediocre novels featuring weak heroines and even weaker writing, and I've been praying for a new trend to kick paranormal romance to the curb.

For a while, dystopia definitely seemed like a good contender. It brought strong protagonists and fascinatingly effed up worlds into the hands of readers, and with the success of The Hunger Games, it proved once and for all that dystopia is totally the new vampire.

But like any fad, it eventually wore out its welcome by producing hundreds of copycats with increasingly cliched plots and underdeveloped characters. In order to stand above the dystopian fray, authors resorted to cobbling together wilder and wilder visions of the future, resulting in stories that are not only far-fetched but also completely unrelatable.

Provided he or she has talent, it's still completely possible for an author to create a paranormal romance or a dystopia that would capture our collective imagination. But in general, I'm ready for a change. In the words of Willow, "Bored now."

Thankfully, there are some new possibilities on the horizon. According to Publisher's Weekly, the key words at the Bologna Children's Book Fair back in March were "thriller" and "science fiction." There was also an increasing interest in standalone novels, which is a relief to hear, because if I have to read another cliffhanger that exists for the sole purpose of making me purchase the next book, I'll ask Peeta for some of those poison berries.

However, the YA Editor's Buzz Panel at last week's Book Expo of America told a different story. Take a look at the books that were pimped out:

'Crewel' by Gennifer Albin

While women in our day and age may not appreciate being called spinsters, in the land of Arras, it is a girl's highest calling. Spinsters weave the very fabric and time of human lives, and Adelice Lewys was born with the gifts to be one. But unlike the rest of her friends, she doesn't want to control people, and she certainly doesn't want to be controlled by the Guild. Unfortunately for Adelice, she may not have a choice.


'Skinny' by Donna Conner

Fifteen-year-old Ever Davies weighs over 300 pounds, and a voice inside her head continuously reminds her that she'll never be loved. That voice, which Ever has named Skinny, persists, even after Ever undergoes gastric bypass surgery. As Ever attempts to gain confidence by trying out for the school musical, she must fight to overcome Skinny by realizing the power of her own, beautiful voice.


'What’s Left of Me' by Kat Zhang

In a world where everyone is born with two souls, Eva and Addie are tighter than twins. But since only one soul is allowed to survive childhood, they've decided to keep Eva a secret, resulting in an illegal hybrid. If they're discovered, they'll be locked away for life, but Eva and Addie are willing to do whatever it takes to make Eva whole again.


'Colin Fischer' by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz

From the screenwriters of X-men: First Class and Thor comes the story of Colin Fischer, a boy with Asperger's syndrome, who becomes an unlikely ally to the school bully, Wayne Connelly. After Wayne is accused of blowing up a birthday cake at school, Colin begins an investigation to prove his innocence and learn more about the vast spectrum of human emotion.


'Skylark' by Megan Spooner

Stuck within an energy dome in an environmentally ravaged world, Lark Ainsley is one of the many teens set to be "harvested" for her energy. But after a harrowing series of experiments, she discovers that she's a Renewable, able to recreate her energy, and therefore a valuable resource that the government will pursue at any cost.


Let's do a quick tally.

Number of dystopian stories: 3 out of 5 (Crewel, What's Left of Me, Skylark)
Number of trilogies: 3 out of 5 (Crewel, What's Left of Me, Skylark)
Number of characters with ridiculous names: 3 out of 5 (Adelice, Ever and Lark?! Forget vampires. This is the trend that needs to die most immediately.)

Arguably, some of these dystopian novels could be classified as science fiction and/or thrillers. But whatever happened to a good, old fashioned mystery? (I guess Colin Fischer falls into that category, but it seems too much like a rip-off of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.) Or what about an imaginative adventure set in space, with a government that's actually not out to get you?

If I had my druthers, I'd love to see thrillers and mysteries ascend to the throne of YA fads. It's been a while since I've read a good nail-biter with a teen protagonist, and solving crimes and fighting bad guys requires strong, intelligent heroes, which is a trend I obviously want to continue in young adult fiction.

But I'm also a big believer in the power of contemporary, realistic stories. While Skinny doesn't exactly ring my bell, I'm happy to see that werewolves and angels haven't completely swallowed the modern day, ordinary teenager. After all, coming of age is tricky enough without pesky vampires getting in your way, and at its core, young adult literature is all about the exhilaration and the pitfalls of adolescence. That's not a trend, it's a fact, and I hope that more and more authors will embrace that truth in their writing.

So while it looks like dystopia will reign as king for a while longer, hopefully thrillers, mysteries and contemporary novels will put on a good fight. And if you have any differing theories, or a trend you'd personally like to surface in YA, let me know in the comments!

Sarah Pitre

Column by Sarah Pitre

Sarah lives in Austin, TX, where she programs screenings at the Alamo Drafthouse and coordinates events at The Highball, a playground for adults. Tired of feeling like a creepy old lady in the bookstore YA section, she created Forever Young Adult to provide grown-ups with a community where they can gush about young adult literature without shame. In addition to crushing on fictional teenage boys, Sarah enjoys fancy cocktails, dance parties and macaroni and cheese.

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The Elusive Woman's picture
The Elusive Woman from Wisconsin, USA June 15, 2012 - 12:45pm

Refreshing article to read.  The first sentence happens to me, too.  I also can't wait for the next 'thing', not for my sake (because I do not simply follow trends when selecting books), but for the sake of young readers being pigeonholed.

Dorian Grey's picture
Dorian Grey from Transexual, Transylvania is reading "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck June 15, 2012 - 1:21pm

I'm glad I'm not the only one who dies a little inside when they see the "Teen Paranormal Romance" section at Barnes & Noble.

lspieller's picture
lspieller from Los Angeles June 16, 2012 - 10:12pm

I enjoyed this article, and I'm goign to check out some of these novels and see ifu they aremade as bada as they look. I actually just started a blog that is in part about my experience writing a YA novel.

Balancing the Y and A in Young Adult Fiction

Check it out, maybe?



misskokamon's picture
misskokamon from San Francisco is reading The Moonlit Mind June 16, 2012 - 12:11am

"Paranormal Romance" is an unfortunate genre label that makes me wince whenever I see it, I agree.

I dig the need for change in YA, but I don't dig the article's format. It's too informal/opinionated for me, and I'm not into writers bringing down other writers' work based on just their genre or name choices. Not just for the writers who wrote these books, but for those here on Litreactor aspiring to be published -- it could make some of the more impressionable members feel like their work won't be so readily acceptable because of their genre choice, etc. I mean no offense to you, Sarah -- I'm only bringing it up now because I see it happening more frequently in the articles and I'm hoping to see it less. It's wonderful for discussion on the forums, though.

Other than that, it's a well written article. I'm glad there are predictions for scifi, and I'm hoping for a little boom in the fairytale category, as well. Both are genres I love to read -- and write!

Miranda Moth's picture
Miranda Moth from Guelph, Ontario, Canada is reading The Maze Runner by James Dashner June 16, 2012 - 6:39am is a great post by Veronica Roth on dealing with her genre shame, I found it very helpful. I agree that making fun of people for their name choices or genre choices is a little similar to people making fun of us for reading or writing YA in the first place. I am about 60000 words into a sci-fi/dystopian YA novel, and this post might have made me cry a little inside lol. At least my characters all have normal names... so far... While I don't myself read any paranormal romance novels (Twilight included), I really enjoy dystopias,  Divergent, Matched, and Hunger games, being a few. A good mystery would be the Maze Runner, by James Dashner. Maybe someone will bring out a crime fighting/mystery solving YA soon with the resurgence of the Sherlock Holmes character.

Miranda Moth's picture
Miranda Moth from Guelph, Ontario, Canada is reading The Maze Runner by James Dashner June 16, 2012 - 6:40am

and I do get that it's a column, not a news article so it's allowed to be opinionated...

Cate Hart's picture
Cate Hart June 17, 2012 - 11:55am

Sorry, but I gracefully disagree. I love my smoking' hot vampire-angel-shadowhunter heroes I find in paranormal YAs. While there are certainly many, too many, for me to read all of them, I'd rather read paranormal and escape the stuff of real life-I deal with that enough everyday and that's why I love reading- than see an over abundance of "teen issue" books. But what I love about books, there's enough to cater to everyone's taste. I guess instead of moaning about what's crowding the shelves because we don't particularly read -or write - that genre, let's celebrate the fact that YA has such a strong presence in a bookstore. Prime real estate for all YAs.

Noob's picture
Noob December 12, 2012 - 12:23am

Well considered article and a nice overview of the current market.

Personally, I like the fact Sarah is opinionated. It shows passion, not a kind of air-brushed, bland approach. It is, after all, an opinion piece!