Sunday, October 23, 2011

Eat Your Heart Out, Edward Cullen. Make Way For The Apocalypse.

It is no secret that vampires, wizards, and werewolves control a huge part of the YA world. Last year at Bryan High School in Omaha, NE, students were given the chance to pick five free books to read and keep. Teachers and librarians thought for sure that novels like the Revolutionary War tale, Chains (Laurie Halse Anderson) would be at the top of students' lists. They were mistaken.

"Nyah," said librarian Stacy Lickteig in an Omaha World Herold article. But "give them something with a zombie on the cover, and they'll devour it."

Fallen angels, ghosts, demons, witches, fairies - all welcome. "For girls," librarian Courtney Pentland said, "paranormal is the romance of this generation."

Burke High School teenager Kourtney Norton agrees that the appeal of fantasy fiction lies in the world that doesn't surround her and her friends all the time. "Real-life girl drama - does he like me? Is he looking at me? - is everywhere." Throw a vampire in the mix and it's much more exciting.

The Omaha WH notes that the trend appears in both genders. "For boys," the article reports, "paranormal is the new adventure series. The Hardy Boys with zombies. Encyclopedia Brown on a dragon."

Even more surprising than the vampire phenomenon, however, is the rise of dystopian fiction with YA audiences. Some critics might even say that dystopian fiction has surpassed the fantasy world for young adult readers. Forget blood sucking creatures - let's see post-Apocalyptic America.

Okay, let's be honest. If someone mentions Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy one more time, her head might explode. But she did start a wave of something that other authors are scrambling to ride. After Katniss Everdeen hit bookstores, Patrick Ness introduced Todd Hewitt (The Knife of Never Letting Go), Philip Reeve brought out Nikola Quercus (Mortal Engines), and Scott Westerfeld published Captain Laurent Zai (The Risen Empire).

While werewolves are thrilling, crazy futuristic societies might be more fitting for teens. In an article yesterday, The Guardian notes that a dystopian society - one with newfound responsibilities, evil enemies, and hundreds of deranged regulations - might actually hit closer to home for teenagers. "Books set in either chaotic or strictly controlled societies mirror a teenager's life," The Guardian wrote. "At school, at home, with their peers and in the wider world."

But why now? Why didn't YA authors jump the dystopian society bandwagon after Madeleine L'Engle's 1962 fantasy, A Wrinkle in Time, or post Lois Lowry's 1993 release of The Giver? What is different about right now? The Guardian has a possible reason.

"Adults write books for teenagers," the article states. "So anxious adults - worried about the planet, the degradation of civil society and the bitter inheritance we're leaving for the young - write dystopian books." Teens have always loved the idea of a crazy, vivid, new future. And now - with global warming, a suffering job market, and Occupy Absolutely Everything in high demand - adults feel it is more pressing to write about a future time in books.

Either way, wizards take up many current books and so do post-Apocalyptic Americas. For all upcoming YA authors out there - spruce up any novel with a touch of werewolf or mention any year after 2417, and you've got a good shot with teen readers.

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