It starts with one teenage girl—the severe tics, the twitching. Then it spreads to another, then another, then another. Is it a virus? Anxiety? Are the girls faking it? Soon, a dozen or more girls are twitching, and mass hysteria has an entire town in a panic.
I could be talking about the notorious Salem Witch Trials, the girls in LeRoy, New York, in 2012—or the two novels coming out this summer, one for adults and one for teen readers. Both novels were sparked by the mass hysteria in 2012 and tell the same general story—with some key differences. Both blend the thrills of a plague narrative with the psychological tension of paranoia and guilt.
We'll never forget how Megan Abbott addressed the cunning powerplays and precarious hierarchies of high-school girl world in her dark and twisted novel, Dare Me. In her next adult novel, The Fever, coming June 17 from Little, Brown, teenage girls fall one by one to unexplained seizures, sending the town into chaos. There's something distinctly sexual about the girls' twitching, and Abbott's dreamlike prose gives these events a haunting, disturbing quality.
YA novel Conversion by Katherine Howe, coming July 1 from Putnam, heads in a more supernatural direction and makes the satisfying connection between past and present twitching. Howe is a direct descendent of two of the women accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials, which has inspired her before. Conversion moves between Salem Village in 1706 and an all-girl's high school in Danvers, Massachusetts, in 2012. When girls start twitching and people start panicking, a parallel is drawn: Danvers was once Salem Village.
It seems the mass hysteria narrative is catching. I suspect we will see several more novels featuring twitchy girls before the end of the year.
Sometimes, it seems like the phrase "YA trend" is an understatement. Topics don't just become popular or frequent in teen lit—they explode.
It's like a game of musical chairs, and when the music stops, everyone wants the same chair. Lately, that chair is the thriller chair, with a dash of paranormal. A paranormal seat cushion, if you will.
It's not as dramatic or strange as vampires and dystopias, but a sizeable chunk of current YA could be categorized as "psychic thriller." The deluge of murder-plus-magic makes the rare realistic thriller stand out even more.
(Why the constant mash-ups in YA? Are teens so disillusioned that authors think they can't write a thriller without the protagonist seeing ghosts, having visions or predicting the future? Is the need for escapism that great? Am I thinking about this too hard?)
Here are a few YA thrillers—paranormal and realistic—to watch for:
Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff
Someone in Hannah's peaceful suburban neighborhood is killing girls, but that's not all she's dealing with. Her best friend Lillian, who died six months ago, is still hanging around as a ghost. She also won't stop pressing Hannah to investigate the string of murders. Coming in January.
The Believing Game by Eireann Corrigan
No spooks in this one; it's all psychological. When Greer Cannon is sent off to a rehab center for troubled teens, she falls hard for handsome Addison Bradley. However, Addison's mentor Joshua is unbelievably creepy, but he makes Greer feel understood—until things go completely out of control. Coming December 1.
What We Saw at Night by Jacquelyn Mitchard
Three teens with XP (an allergy to sunlight) spend all their time roaming around town at night, and when they start practicing Parkour, they accidentally spot what appears to be a murder in progress. Coming in January.
Beautiful Lies by Jessica Warman
These twins with an Escape to Witch Mountain-esque bond can feel each other's pain, so when one of them disappears, the other knows something is horribly wrong. The twins can't trust anyone except each other, and our reviewer warns this "might not be a book to read when one is alone in a lonely, dark house."
One of the biggest complaints I hear about YA is that parents have no idea what to expect from a book, whether they'll find it appropriate for their teen or not. These crossover writers are a safe bet (and create potential lifelong readers for that author).
Said James Patterson in a New York Times interview, "The reality is that women buy most books. . . The reality is that it’s easier, and a really good habit, to start to get parents when they walk into a bookstore to say, ‘You know, I should buy a book for my kid as well.’ ”
Harlan Coben's Mickey Bolitar novels pick up where the Myron Bolitar novels left off. Mickey has a lot in common with his Uncle Myron—tall, likes basketball, has great sidekicks, solves thrilling mysteries, etc.—except that he also deals with high school, crushes and bullies. Read our review of the first Mickey Bolitar novel, Shelter.
Have you noticed this trend? Why do teens need a dash of the paranormal with their thrillers?
These days, tales of mermaids in young adult fiction are a far cry from The Little Mermaid. Mermaids are more like monsters than princesses, and their stories are some of the most violent and graphic in the teen genre. Nevertheless, it's clear readers love them, because the wave of mermaid YA shows no signs of slowing.
However, I've noticed a slight transition in the sea creature trend, and it might give mermaids a run (swim) for their money—the selkie. Based in Scottish and Irish folklore, selkies appear as seals in water but can also take human form. In some myths, if you hide the selkie's seal skin, it belongs to you and cannot return to seal form.
So as we head into 2013, I'm wondering who will win in this throwdown: Mermaids vs. Selkies.
Below, the contenders.
Fathomless by Jackson Pearce
This re-imagined Little Mermaid introduces Lo, a creature of the sea who still clings to her remaining human life. But in order to be human again, she must convince a boy to love her—and then steal his soul.
Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz
Rudy and his family move to a remote island to save his sick younger brother—an island where the fish have strange healing properties. He spots a merman (well, merboy) off the coast, learns that the fish-kid's name is Teeth and discovers that Teeth has creepy, violent secrets. Look for it in January.
Plus, a few others: Wrecked by Anna Davies, Of Poseidon by Anna Banks, Sarah Porter's Lost Voices series and Tera Lynn Childs' Fins series.
The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan
In this dazzling book (our Children's Top Pick for September), all of the women on Rollrock are seal-women. The witch Misskaella uses her connections with the seals to introduce the men to seal-women. There are few YA books—whether about selkies, mermaids or something else—that better capture the sea than this one from Printz Honor-winning Lanagan. Read our review.
And a quick peek into the children's books coming out in 2013 proved that the selkie myth is no one-hit wonder—and I predict I'll stumble across a few more before its June pub date:
Tides by Betsy Cornwell
This debut from Cornwell tells the story of high school senior Noah and his adopted teenage sister, Lo (probably not the same Lo from Fathomless . . .). Noah tries to save a girl from drowning, and she probably turns out to be a seal-woman, or something like that.
Okay, readers: How do you feel about the new nature of mermaids in teen lit? And in the battle of selkie vs. mermaid, which sea creature wins? What makes the better YA novel?
Vampires are so over. Kids killing kids have trouble topping Katniss. Dystopia still has momentum . . . for now.
But what's the hot topic in teen novels for fall? Genetic engineering. Clones.
It's by no means a surprise topic for the genre, as questioning the meaning of humanity is familiar territory for teen lit. However, it seems this fall has a particularly large number of female heroines that are either clones or projects, or are discovering the genetic question for themselves. Check out a few of the bigger titles for this fall:
Origin by Jessica Khoury
Enter the Amazon jungle with the tale of Pia, a girl raised in a secret laboratory hidden deep in the rainforest. She was created to be the first of a new immortal race. This one's big—it's the first title on the 2012 Penguin Teen Breathless Reads. Keep an eye out for our interview with debut author Khoury in September!
Eve & Adam by Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate
The author duo behind the Animorphs series also set their book in a sinister laboratory. Eve is the daughter of the leading geneticist at super secretive Spiker Biopharm, and after a terrible accident, she finds herself bedridden and bored. Her mom gives her a special project: Design the perfect boy—but nothing is ever that simple.
The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna
This debut novel stars Eva, an "echo" designed to replace a real girl, Amarra, if she ever died. Eva must do everything Amarra does, eat what she eats, learns what she learns. When Amarra dies, Eva must choose: Stay and live out her years as a copy or leave and risk it all for the freedom to be an original.
Beta by Rachel Cohn
On the island of Demesne, the wealthiest people on earth employ clones as workers. Elysia is the experimental model of the first teenage clone, and she quickly discovers she's not as unfeeling or soulless as she's supposed to be. She must keep her emotions secret or suffer the consequences—but keeping quiet in a place like Demesne isn't easy.
Why do you think YA books seem concerned with the question of what it means to be human?
By now, most of you probably know that Meghan Cox Gurdon sparked a controversy in the Wall Street Journal* by writing about the "explicit abuse, violence and depravity" present in today's YA literature.
The gist of the piece is that violent and disturbing behaviors in teen novels have the potential to "help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures."
The most-quoted line from the essay concerns the B-word. Gurdon writes: "In the book trade, this is known as 'banning.' In the parenting trade, however, we call this 'judgment' or 'taste.'"
Surprise, surprise: YA authors and fans of YA fiction did not like this essay one bit—and responded en masse via the Twitter hashtag #YAsaves. (As for me, I think the thesis of the essay is just . . . eye-roll inducing. If I had a teen daughter, I'd give her Lauren Myracle's Shine over violent video games and movies—or, you know, the nightly news—any day of the week. Not to mention there are plenty of light and fluffy YA books out there—even many of Lauren Myracle's other books! If teens want to read about romance, adventure, fantasy or any other topic, a good librarian or bookseller can help point them toward lots of great books that don't involve blood, guts or self-mutilation.)
Besides following the Twitter hashtag, I've been keeping notes on a few of the most thoughtful and interesting responses to Gurdon's essay, for your reading pleasure:
Let us know in the comments.
*The cynical side of me thinks she also made her editor verrry happy with this click-baiting piece of writing. Not since Amy Chua's "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" have I seen so much commentary and outrage concerning an article about a book!