Last week, the New York Times published a piece in the Sunday Review from Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld based on their new book, The Triple Package, a study of why different immigrant groups succeed or fail in America. Though the book has been criticized for being "soft science" and/or measuring things that are very difficult to quantify (something the authors point out themselves in the Times piece) one statistic stood out to me:
Immigrants from many West Indian and African countries, such as Jamaica, Ghana, and Haiti, are climbing America’s higher education ladder, but perhaps the most prominent are Nigerians. Nigerians make up less than 1 percent of the black population in the United States, yet in 2013 nearly one-quarter of the black students at Harvard Business School were of Nigerian ancestry; over a fourth of Nigerian-Americans have a graduate or professional degree, as compared with only about 11 percent of whites.
Those are some astonishing numbers…but perhaps they're less so if you've been paying attention to literature lately. Although writers of African origin have been having a moment in recent years, it's not an exaggeration to say that Nigerian emigré authors are taking center stage. Don't believe it? How about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Teju Cole, Chris Abani, Okey Ndibie, Uzodinma Iweala,* Helen Oyeyemi, and Taiye Selasie,* most of whom are now based mainly in the U.S. or U.K.
Anyone looking for more perspective on the Nigerian immigrant path should pick up Adichie's most recent novel, Americanah, which comes out in paperback next month—its heroine, Ifemelu, goes from cash-strapped immigrant student to an acclaimed academic.
*not Nigerian-born, but of Nigerian descent.
While reading an interview with Eleanor Catton in The Guardian after her recent Booker win, I came across this interesting quote:
It is the peculiar constellation of her age, gender and the particular nature of The Luminaries that has, she believes, provoked "a sense of irritation from some critics–that I have been so audacious to have taken up people's time by writing a long book. There's a sense in there of: 'Who do you think you are? You can't do that.' "
Think Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things (512 pages), Kate Atkinson's Life After Life (544 pages), Nicola Griffith's Hild (560 pages), Amy Tan's The Valley of Amazement (604 pages), Marisha Pessl's Night Film (624 pages), Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch (784 pages) and Minae Mizumura's A True Novel (880 pages).
Here's your nifty visual aid:
Writing a long novel not only asks a lot of the reader, but is also a mark of ambition—something that is not always looked on kindly when coming from a woman. But if this year's output is any indication, female writers aren't letting themselves be held back.
What was your favorite long novel published this year?
A couple months ago, I commented on the creepy timeliness of Koethi Zan's debut thriller, The Never List. Coming July 16, The Never List tells a graphic, terrifying story with details similar to the real-life situation experienced by the three Ohio women who were rescued after being held prisoner for 10 years. Read our review of The Never List!
But as I look into the fall mystery titles, it's clear that The Never List was just a starting shot to what looks to be the most disturbing trend of the year: abduction thrillers. In September alone, three blockbuster thrillers bear distinct resemblance the terribly sad stories of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight. Each imparts graphic, intimate details of the mental and physical state of a woman held captive by a sadistic predator.
Alex by Pierre LeMaitre • MacLehose Press • 9/3
When Alex Prévost is kidnapped, beaten and trapped in a wooden cage hanging from the ceiling of an abandoned building, her only hope of escape is Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven. As Camille struggles to find the girl and her captor, he uncovers Alex's unusual past. With a 150,000-copy first printing, this is positioned to be a big one.
The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton • Minotaur • 9/10
Norton's true crime bestseller Perfect Victim: The True Story of the Girl in the Box was placed on the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit reading list. Now she steps into fiction with the story of Reeve LeClaire, who escaped her kidnapping six years ago. When she's asked to mentor another girl who experienced a similar situation, it's clear that the girl needs much more than guidance—she needs a protector from the villain that still watches.
Others of My Kind by James Sallis • Bloomsbury • 9/10
From the author of Drive comes the gritty, almost desensitized story of Jenny Rowan, who at age 8 was abducted and kept for years in a box underneath a bed. Years after her escape, a detective comes to her home and asks for her help with another young survivor. Of the four, this one might be the toughest.
Trends like this remind me of when I interviewed Therese Anne Fowler, who began writing Z, her novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, long before Jazz Age tales were back in vogue. Fowler had called it "radio waves in the zeitgeist," but this sadistic kidnapping thriller trend, coupled with coincidental recent events, pricks the spine.
Readers, I truly want to know your opinion: Why do you think all four of these authors—and probably many more—wrote on such similar topics? It this just a residual response to the popularity of last year's Room?
Do you think you'll be checking out any of these books?
A few years ago, YA lit fans were calling for more sci-fi, and it's safe to say that the genre answered. With YA's built-in fanbase for apocalyptic thrillers, the opportunities were endless: zombies, contagions, aliens, interplanetary romances and doomsdays that can be thwarted only by 16-year-olds.
Characters in high-action teen lit are right at home a hundred years in the future on Mars (Losers in Space, Black Hole Sun), surviving on space stations (Glow, Mothership), waking from stasis to discover a strange new future world (Across the Universe, A Long, Long Sleep) and thwarting dominate species (The Lunar Chronicles).
But this summer, it gets personal.
YA sci-fi comes to the home front as alien invasions sweep this summer's crop of teen lit. Naturally, many are set post-invasion, because honestly, YA dystopia will never die.
Here are a few of the big ones:
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (Putnam, 5/7)
Aliens quickly and mercilessly destroy the majority of the human race in attacks called "Waves." The few survivors include Cassie, who runs along an abandoned highway in search of her missing brother, completely unaware that the aliens' most terrifying strike is yet to come. Think The Host, only much better. Read our review from the May issue.
Icons by Margaret Stohl (Little, Brown, 5/7)
The aliens in this one barely show their faces—but that's what makes them creepy. The survivors of this post-alien invasion world are so scared of their overlords that they perpetuate the aliens' horrors willfully. Four teens with a special immunity to the aliens are Earth's only hope. Fans of Stohl's Beautiful Creatures series will enjoy this one.
In the After by Demetria Lunetta (HarperTeen, 6/25)
Amy and a toddler she calls "Baby" survive after aliens invade Earth and kill almost all of the population. But when Amy and Baby are miraculously rescued, everything is not as it seems, and she begins to discover the truth behind "Them."
Neptune's Tears by Susan Waggoner (Holt, 6/25)
Call this one an alien invasion of the heart. Set in London in the year 2218, an empath named Zee falls in love with David, a member of a mysterious alien race. Sure, there's some fighting, but it's mostly fighting for their love. An alien invasion tale for the romantic set.
And one more to look forward to: The fourth book in Pittacus Lore's I Am Number Four series, The Fall of Five, comes out on August 27.
Are you a fan of YA sci-fi? Are you excited for the upcoming thrilling alien reads?
I can't tell you how many conversations I've had about erotic romance over the past year. How many people—in real life and via social media—have asked: I loved Fifty Shades . . . but what can I read next? Or: Why are millions of people reading this trash? Everyone has an opinion about the popularity of erotic romance. My two cents? I just want people to find a book that suits their taste.
I will say that I've grown a bit bored of the whole innocent-young-woman-is-seduced-by-a-billionaire plotline. So I was really excited to learn of S.E.C.R.E.T. by L. Marie Adeline, which gives the trope a feminist spin: What if the women control the fantasies? And I was intrigued by the novel's New Orleans setting. Forget boardrooms in big-city skyscrapers. Can you think of a better background for erotic romance than the French Quarter?
In a guest blog post, Adeline explains how she came to write erotic romance in the first place—and why her book stands out in a crowded market. If you've been on the fence about reading erotic romance, I hope you pick up S.E.C.R.E.T., which is on sale today.
Embracing the "what ifs" of erotic romance
By L. Marie Adeline
As a writer I always start with “what if.” When I set out to write S.E.C.R.E.T., a book about a woman named Cassie Robichaud who’s on a potent sexual journey, my “what if” had to do with my own reluctance to write erotica. The question became “What if you got over that fear and reached a wider audience, one now so clearly illuminated by the success of Fifty Shades of Grey?”
I’d always written about women’s struggles with intimacy. But I’d mostly get my characters to the bedroom doorway, then mutter, “Okay. Bye. Have fun. I’ll catch up with you later.” Maybe I’d linger for a kiss, but rarely did I watch it go down. Why? What if my idea of good (or bad) sex didn’t resonate with readers? What if my character’s proclivities were ridiculed?
When Fifty Shades began its bestseller climb, I had been working on a financial advice book. My editor basically dared me to man up (or woman up), and try my hand at erotica, and, well, I did. Following close upon the heels of my first literary “what if” came other questions:
What if my character wasn’t a very young woman but was a little older? What if I gave the story a feminist angle? What if a woman could learn to stay emotionally detached to men she’s sexually attracted to, and what if she could learn to be sexually attracted to men to whom she is emotionally attached? What if other savvier women taught her how to do that?
That’s what I feel differentiates S.E.C.R.E.T. from other novels in this genre. In my book, women help other women develop better sexual attitudes towards their partners.
In S.E.C.R.E.T., Cassie is recruited by a secret society of women in New Orleans that helps her overcome her sexual blocks. The group orchestrates nine daring sexual fantasies over the course of one year. With the group’s support, Cassie becomes more alive to herself. It’s not that Cassie doesn’t “fall” for some of these incredible men, but her guide, Matilda, is there to warn her of the pitfalls of mixing lust with love. Wouldn’t it be great if we all had a Matilda to tell us the truth about the Heathcliffs, the Rochesters and the Christian Greys? In Matilda’s mind, the men in S.E.C.R.E.T. are fine for sex. Perfect, in fact. But for true and lasting love, not so much. And Cassie needs to hear that from another woman who’s been there, done them.
That’s not to say Cassie isn’t on a romantic journey as well. There’s this guy, see, and of course it’s complicated . . . but in S.E.C.R.E.T., the erotic and romantic are explored separately before they finally, hopefully, come together at the end.
Here’s the key: For Cassie to have uninhibited sex with these fantasy men, she needs support and guidance from other women who overcame the same fears, the same reluctance, the same self-doubts Cassie has. She needs to see that women who take big risks often reap great rewards. She needs to be gently nudged out of her head and into the bedroom. The women in S.E.C.R.E.T. carved a path, and support Cassie, and frankly, that’s what E.L. James and other daring erotica writers have done for me. And for that, I’m grateful.
Readers of our December issue know that we've dubbed Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl the breakout book of 2012. A word-of-mouth sensation, this novel is guaranteed to keep you on your toes—and have you talking about it to your friends.
If Gone Girl whetted your appetite for unpredictable plotlines, dark and twisted characters or jaw-dropping finales, here are a few suggestions on what to read next.
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. One of the themes of Gone Girl was the fascination that missing women and girls hold in today's society. Atkinson takes on a similar topic in her first Jackson Brodie mystery, which links the recent murder of a young woman to a child's disappearance decades before.
Hanging Hill by Mo Hayder. If you thought the ending of Gone Girl was messed up—well, the last page of this story will have your head spinning. Really, all of Hayder's dark, well-written tales should appeal to the Flynn aficionado.
Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross. A husband who fantasizes about his wife's death sees his guilty nightmare come true. Those who enjoyed Flynn's exposé of the ugly underbelly of marriage shouldn't miss Ross' debut, which features three couples bound by love, hate and, possibly, murder.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Today's detective fiction is a descendant of Victorian "sensation" fiction—and The Woman in White, arguably the very first in that genre, is still one of the best. Like Flynn's, Collins' tale is told through the written statements of different protagonists, each with their own biases that the reader must consider. (Amy's diary has nothing on Count Fosco's!)
Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan. One of the pleasures of Gone Girl is its exploration of male-female dynamics and the power of creating a "story." McEwan deals with some of the same issues in his latest novel, which also contains one of those brilliant (and exceedingly rare) surprise endings that casts everything that came before in a different light.
Perfume by Patrick Suskind. You'd have a hard time finding a more dark and twisted main character than Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the 18th-century French serial killer who stalks the pages of Suskind's remarkable debut novel. Grenouille is as manipulative and calculating as any character in the pages of Gone Girl, and the results of his machinations are shocking.
Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi. A male writer is taken to task by his female muse for his unfortunate penchant for killing off the women he writes about in Oyeyemi's imaginative fourth novel, which shares Gone Girl's interest in violence against women and the dark side of marriage.
What books would you recommend for Gone Girl fans?
RELATED ON THE BOOK CASE: Previous posts on Gone Girl.
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?
As the general fiction editor here at BookPage, most every novel published eventually makes its way across my desk (or at least spends time piled on it). So it's easy to spot trends. Some are extremely transitory (cover trends, Amish vampires); others, part of a publishing shift (other cover trends, regular vampires). One thing that seems to be firmly in the latter category is the rise of historical fiction.
Of course, this is not a new genre, but the number of hopeful historical fiction bestsellers has gone up exponentially over the past few years. Many of this fall's most touted debuts and literary releases? Historicals. The favorite for this year's Man Booker Prize? A historical. Some of 2012's biggest bestsellers were the type of book I like to call "novels—now starring real people," which, with their stories of the inner lives of historical figures (usually involving romantic intrigue), have won over readers of contemporary commercial fiction. It's starting to feel like a writer has to be a colossus—or at least some sort of preternaturally talented literary phenom—to get noticed for a book set in the present day. (Writing about the future also gives you a pretty decent chance, but that's for another post.)
I have a few theories about why this genre is especially popular with today's authors, publishers and readers.
Our multi-tasking lifestyle. No one wants to be doing just one thing when they could be doing two. These novels offer readers an escape—but they're also teaching you something!
Gravitas. It's hard to shake 200+ years of criticism of the novel as a frivolous waste of time. Reading historical fiction calms these anxieties for readers. And that added dose of seriousness—these authors probably read other books in order to write their novel! none of this daydreaming over Starbucks nonsense—also gives writers and publishers a better chance at the Holy Grail: a novel that sells well, yet isn't completely cut off from critical praise.
Reality TV. Today we are accustomed to having "real" lives served up as entertainment. See also: the rising popularity of memoirs. Please note that both these things came into their own just before the "novels featuring real people" trend really took off. Coincidence?
It's a "hook." Having a factual angle gives book clubs something to chew on and media types something to probe into. And lord knows the only thing better than selling your book to 10 people at the same time is getting your author five minutes with Matt Lauer.
Today's world is not that great, but it could be worse. Reading historical fiction lets us get lost in the past (That dress sounds gorgeous! I wish I had a butler.), while at the same time letting us feel slightly superior about modern advancements (cell phones, indoor plumbing, more progressive attitudes toward women and minorities—you know, the important things). A win-win.
But those are just my theories. What are yours? Do you have a favorite historical novel from 2012? (I'm going to go with The Lifeboat.)
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?