2014 has been an exciting year for YA literature, particularly with the advent of the first Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) and now the inaugural YA Book Prize.
Yet YA literature wasn’t always so popular. I remember just a mere seven years ago, as I started working as a children’s books specialist, this section was much smaller in bookshops than it is now. In fact in some bookshops now, you’ll find the YA section so large that it is split into YA and Paranormal Romance.
It was this latter genre which sent YA literature soaring into the consciousness of many readers. We started with vampires and moved on to werewolves, then angels. At one point we had stories involving mermaids and sirens and finally, afterworld/underworlds where collectors of the dead in various guises came forth to fall in love. We are now going through a period of resurgence in witches with the likes of Sally Green’s Half Bad doing well and new kid on the block Trial By Fire by Josephine Angelini gathering fans. Continuing themes of afterworlds remain with the two tales in one book suitably named Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, and Michael Grant’s latest offering Messenger Of Fear.
A newer genre involves the subjects of societal disintegration and terrorism - of the kind we are reading about in the news, but also cyber terror – Terror Kid by Benjamin Zephaniah, I Predict A Riot by Catherine Bruton, BombMaker by Claire McFall, and James Dashner’s Eye of Minds are all popular examples. It probably comes as no surprise really, given the times we live in. All writing pursues what affects us within society and we currently live in an extremely volatile world, economically, socially and politically. So it is no wonder that dystopian and apocalyptic themes in particular remain popular, while terrorism, the internet, and the power, control and potential disasters of both are explored. The Rain by Virginia Bergin is another example of a post-apocalyptic world story being driven by the protagonist’s characterisation – what drives her to cope, to survive, what motivates her to hope? I think as our own world becomes more volatile, maybe we are reaching for stories where the characters give us potential coping mechanisms.
The angst-ridden, heartbreaking genre lovingly known online as “the feels” includes of course John Green. Following on from his success with The Fault In Our Stars, readers have been picking up David Levithan, Rainbow Rowell, Matthew Quick, and Gayle Forman to name a few. A couple of my 2014 favourites are in this genre are In Bloom by Matthew Crow, and The Year of The Rat by Clare Furness.
Fantasy is the quiet genre for YA literature at the moment, with very little being scooped off our shelves. However, a surprising delight for me this year was The Stolen Songbird by Danielle Jensen. It had a feel of Shannon Hale about it, combined trolls, underground worlds, power, control and that all important “Darcy/Bennett frisson” as I call the moreish love interests which keep you turning the pages tur. The one to watch is The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury coming in 2015.
Considering crime, thriller and horror – thanks to the success of Gone Girl, these genres in YA are seeing much more interest and the challenge for publishers and booksellers is to find the ‘next’ Gone Girl for 2015. What is exciting for me as a bookseller is that Gone Girl is introducing young adults to more adult literature and they seem much more comfortable to explore the adult literature shelves now.
The conclusion I have to come to having researched and mused over this blog post is that YA literature is very much alive and kicking with breathtaking diversity and range. What an exciting time to be a reader, writer and publisher.