Boom times for Young Adult fiction
Teen fiction is no longer just for kids. A recent industry survey shows that 55 per cent of those who purchase Young Adult (YA) fiction are adult readers between their late 20s and mid 40s.
With more than 4,000 titles and $600-million in sales during 2011, youth literature is the fastest-growing category in publishing. Bestsellers like The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and Twilight leap easily onto the big screen, spinning box office gold.
UBC Prof. Judith Saltman researches and teaches children’s and youth literature at the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies. Teen fiction is so much more than glittery vampires and adolescent angst, says Saltman who reflects on what’s hot, why and what’s next.
How do you explain the YA fiction boom?
The first reason is raw storytelling. The writing is transparent and unselfconscious.
People who are writing for teens are more direct. They’re writing faster-paced material that explores a time of intense self-discovery and the heroic quest, which leads to the second reason: intense emotion.
A third reason is the diversity of genres. There’s something for everybody. You can have fantasy, science fiction, contemporary realism, historical realism, graphic novels and verse novels.
Marketing is a factor. Before, the YA category used to be age-level writing, targeting 12- to 18-year-olds. Now publishers are also marketing down to tweens as well as up toward adults.
But a big reason for the huge rise of YA fiction is that these books, especially fantasy and science fiction series, invite you into a mystical world which Tolkien termed the “secondary world” with its internal consistency and truths.
Why do YA novels seem tailor-made for Hollywood?
The stories are incredibly filmic. They’re so lean and propulsive and have such momentum. They are novels
with characters, scenes and action that read like screenplays.
Two recent examples are in the dystopian science fiction genre: The Knife of Never Letting Go, by the amazing U.K. writer Philip Ness, and Red Blood Road by a wonderful Canadian writer, Moira Young. Both conjure a Mad Max setting that’s stark and dramatic. Both have been optioned to be filmed.
What lies at the beating heart of teen fiction?
There’s often a Manichean battle in YA fantasy and science fiction in which a never-ending struggle exists between good and evil, between young people and exploiters who are usually adults and often of supernatural species.
There’s a child who’s evolving through adolescence and is looking at a false, immoral and corrupt adult world. Similar to Joseph Campbell’s writing on myth, the hero must leave the known world and go out into the unknown to battle evil in any form.
The adolescents are upholding values of compassion, courage, stability, faith, and trust. They carry a burden on their shoulders to save the world.
Why do adults want to write about teens?
Although some of these books are tragic, most of the writers feel they are writing for the future, for the next generation, for growing people. They show harsh truths but they want to offer hope and redemption.
I think that it’s quite different in adult writing. There’s more cynicism, bitterness, a sense of the endgame that you don’t find in quite the same way in writing for teens.
Is dystopian angst here to stay?
The human race is so anxious about the future of our planet that these stories serve as cautionary tales. In this literature, we see imagery of apocalyptic collapse, a futuristic hellscape, a landscape of poverty, collapse of the environment and the social order, an ongoing struggle for survival and a frightening totalitarian state.
For teen readers, this genre offers something fresh and new, and for adult readers, it has energy and a moral compass not always found in adult writing of dystopia. These stories almost always end up with groups of teenagers acting with courage in political rebellion.
Where is youth literature going?
I think people are getting really tired of paranormal romance and vampires, shimmery or not. I am, and I think the publishers are.
New genres include YA urban fantasy and the character-driven novel. High epic fantasies such as those created by Rowling and Pullman will never dry up because we have a huge need for mythology and archetype. It goes back to Tolkien, Lewis and writers of the 19th century. That will be with us forever.