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February 15, 2018 BOOKLIST
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For starters, we must acknowledge the fact that an astonishing 65 percent of all YA books are now being purchased by adults, who have discovered and fallen in love with the genre. My guess is they were first smitten by the movie adaptations of the Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, and Divergent series, then stuck around to read the book versions, and now are devotees of the written YA word.
This brings us to another trend: the current one in crossover publishing, a function of the increasingly fuzzy line between young adult and adult books and, frankly, the increasingly fuzzy line between young adults and adults themselves, as societal changes and recent research show that young people’s brains are not fully formed until age 25 or so. This has led some observers to posit the notion that people are now not adults until age 26. This population of post-high-school 19- to 25-year-olds—called new adults by some, “adultescents” or “kiddults” by others—constitutes a new market segment that publishers will surely attempt to reach. Some already are as YA becomes increasingly more sophisticated, a fact the review media’s age-range designation “Gr. 10–up” suggests, for the indeterminate “up” invites appeal to new adults, as do the increasing number of YA books featuring protagonists of college age (think of titles like Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando’s Roomies).
A large number of adult books now could have been published as YA had sales and marketing staffs not dictated that the books would be more profitable published as adult. This works both ways, though. Margo Rabb’s Cures for Heartbreak was written as an adult novel but was published by Delacorte as a YA. Another trend—the persistence of series—is rooted in the Harry Potter books. Some observers are now saying, however, that long series are finally in decline; one editor recently told me he is now looking for submissions that promise no more than a two- or three-volume story arc, while others are pointing to the increase in stand-alone titles.
One Potter-inspired trend remains unabated, however: books of Brobdingnagian length. There was a time, 20 or so years ago, when it was an unwritten rule that YA books could be no more than 250 pages in length. No more! Today we routinely see books that are 400 to 500 pages long. An unofficial new record in this regard has recently been set by the publication of Daniel Kraus’ splendid two-volume novel, The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, which weighs in at a mind-boggling 1,400-plus pages.
Another new trend is a decline in speculative fiction (science fiction appears to be an exception) and a corollary return to a literature of contemporary realism, thanks in part to the wildly successful work of John Green. The erstwhile wunderkind may, at 39, no longer be a “kind,” but he is still some kind of “wunderful”: his mastery of social media has illuminated a path to success for some of today’s emerging young talent. Further encouraging such talent is a still-new award from the Young Adult Library Services Association, the William C. Morris YA Debut Award.
Another important award for beginning writers is the Coretta Scott King Award for new talent. Which brings us to the consideration of multicultural literature, a topic we haven’t visited in this column since I covered the decade of the eighties, in part because this literature has persistently been a kind of publishing stepchild, noticeable by its relative absence. Happily, this may be changing, thanks in large part to a new organization called We Need Diverse Books (WNDB). Founded in 2014, the nonprofit volunteer organization, according to its mission statement, “advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.” WNDB’s increasingly vital program of activities includes the newly established Walter Award, named in honor of the late Walter Dean Myers, and the Walter Dean Myers grants to encourage emerging talent in the field.
Meanwhile, another literature of diversity that is finally coming into its own is that of LGBTQ literature. After existing in the shadows for decades, LGBTQ literature has finally emerged into the spotlight of activity and acceptance. Like the rest of the field, it is now remarkable for its sheer volume. Consider that from 2000 through 2009, a total of 256 titles were published in this area, while for the lesser period of 2010 through 2016, the number has already escalated to 437! That’s six times the total published during the entire decade of the nineties! Equally remarkable is the emergence of books with transgender characters, the current trend in LGBTQ publishing. Though only a handful of books with intersex characters have been published to date, my guess is that this, too, is a trend aborning.
What of future trends? Well, as long as YA remains profitable—and there’s no sign that it will be anything but—the field will remain in many regards the same, only bigger and, one hopes, better. For YA is an essential staple of the lives of young (and new) adults, giving faces to every teen and a literature that rises to meet their personal, psychological, and social needs. It’s been quite a ride to get from 1967 to the present, but keep your seat belts fastened, folks; there’s a long and winding road yet to come.
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