Saturday, January 28, 2012

YA: An Evolution of Genres

When I was the appropriate age for Young Adult books, the shelves look nothing like what they resemble today. Bearing in mind that I am talking pre-2000 South Africa here, where (in my opinion anyway) YA was incredibly under-appreciated on the whole.

Big series for teens included Francine Pascal's Fearless. These books followed Gaia Moore, a 16 year-old girl who was born without the fear gene. For me, this series was pretty revolutionary. Using the same style introduced in Sweet Valley High: Senior Year (let us not dwell on how I know this, mkay?), Pascal staggers chapters with diary-like inserts that gave insight into the character's thoughts. I thought this little device was the best thing ever. Plus, Fearless dealt some serious issues, such as sex, anorexia and self-identity. The characters were unusually complex and the plot was so action-packed and gripping.

And... then the series degenerated after book twelve when, due to their success, the publisher pushed for an expansion beyond the anticipated number of books. This also meant that ghost-writers were introduced and the character's voices changed and I lost interest TOTALLY. You just don't do that to a series.

Vampires were around back then, too. Sorry, Twilight, you are not the trendsetter people make you out to be. Included in the fanged line-up were LJ Smith's Vampire Diaries (the books were better than the tv show. The original four books were waaaay better than the new ones that were clearly written to make loads of cash out of fangirls lusting for more Stefan) and Christopher Pike's Last Vampire series.

But seldom did YA books stray past the 250 page marker. They were short, sweet and easily read in a day.

Then along came Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy. While the protagonist was a young girl, this series was dark and and highly controversial. It had much to do with Pullman's open views about religion and the church. These views clearly influenced his writing and, of course, this trilogy was shunned by many religious groups.

Speaking of upsetting the church, along came a young wizard with a scar on his forehead who changed the way the world saw reading and childrens' books in particular. The worldwide phenomenon of Harry Potter amazed me. Suddenly people were counting down the days until the release of the next installment. People could actually place a pre-order in their local bookstores as this was actually essential to ensure they got a copy on the day of release. We saw fans camping outside bookstores. People dressed up as their favourite characters. Suddenly, kids books were no longer just for kids anymore.

In between Harry Potter instalments, paranormal YA started growing while readers sought something to keep them occupied. I found Garth Nix's Abhorsen trilogy. This phenomenal series was also refreshing as, unlike Harry, it acknowledged mature themes. Sabriel, the first in the series, remains one of my top books today.

And then, in 2006, Twilight was published and YA exploded with vampire romance novels all wanting to know Twilight from the top spot in bestseller lists. Love triangles seemed to be a la mode too. Sadly this is where quality fell to the wayside and people began to care more about pretty covers and publicity.

Angels, werewolves and other paranormal creatures also got shelf space. As long as there was romance, all was good.

2008 was the start of the dystopian era which still seems to be the genre of choice today. This is all thanks to Suzanne Collins and one Katniss Everdeen, the girl who was on fire. The book I am talking about, of course, is The Hunger Games. A film adaption is due out a bit later this year.

Now, with thanks to the books mentioned above, YA is a cornucopia of choice. The bookshelves are packed and teens are actively reading. It is actually cool to read! Not just that, adults are finding joy in YA, where the books are rich with imaginative detail.

I am eagerly awaiting the next big thing to hit the YA market and see the ripple effect it has. Perhaps robot-dominated science fiction will be next, where a young android finds love with his creator's daughter. Or perhaps historical fiction will get some time in the limelight.

Who can say? I can promise one thing, though. I will be there for it.

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