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?
Here's what stuck out today. Notice any similarities?
Out September 4 from Forge, you can buy Hank Phillippi Ryan's The Other Woman, the first in a new series. This breakneck first installment features a possible serial killer, a fallen-from-grace TV reporter, a Senate candidate facing a sex scandal—and much more.
The latest Joe O'Loughlin thriller from Michael Robotham is out from Mulholland Books on October 2. A husband and wife are murdered in their London home. Is the suspect just a troubled young man . . . or does he have something more to hide? The last O'Loughlin book was our Top Pick in Mystery in March 2012.
Japanese bestseller Keigo Higashino's latest book to hit U.S. shores, Salvation of a Saint, is on sale October 2 from Minotaur. Think murdered husband + a widow/suspect + a detective who has a thing for the woman. Higashino's The Devotion of Suspect X was filled with terrific suspense and a complete twist ending. We expect no less from Salvation!
These are all thrillers set in cosmopolitan locales—Boston, London and Tokyo, respectively—and, of course, they all involve murder. But I'm grouping 'em together because of the book jackets. What is it about a long-haired woman wearing a red trench coat and running/walking away?
Have you noticed any funny trends on your book jackets lately? Is red going to be the big color for fall? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
There seem to be no end of Fifty Shades parodies. A quick search will get you Fifty Shades of Black and Blue, Fifty Shades of Pink, Fifty Shades of Gravy and (strangely) Fifty Shades of Silver Hair and Socks.
Two other parodies showed up in our mail recently: Fifty Shames of Earl Gray and Fifty Shades of Louisa May.
Fifty Shames of Earl Gray by Fanny Merkin (whose real name, Andrew Shaffer of EvilReads, is revealed on the cover) is the story of billionaire CEO Earl Gray and the girl smitten by him, Anna Steal. Earl buys her stuff, Anna loves his shapely fingers—you get the picture. The "fifty shames" are all Earl's dirty secrets, like his man-crush on Tom Cruise. Here's the opener:
I growl with frustration at my reflection in the mirror. My hair is fifty shades of messed up. Why is it so kinky and out of control? I need to stop sleeping with it wet. As I brush my long brown hair, the girl in the mirror with brown eyes too big for her head stares back at me. Wait . . . my eyes are blue! It dawns on me that I haven't been looking into the mirror—I've been staring at a poster of Kristen Stewart for five minutes. My own hair is fine.
Desire has left me as a letter leaves its envelope, dried and relieved of purpose. Yet the though of my lusty days brings a familiar blush to my face, a thrilling disarray to my thoughts. Perhaps the heaving heart of my youth still beats beneath my black cretonne (expensive, I might point out, and from France) I shall start my brief memoir, as many Frenchmen do, with early lustful memories, my first visions of the ways of men and women.
We recently heard a story on the CBC show Day 6 with Brent Bambury that we found quite intriguing, amusing, and a bit disturbing: e-books that are produced with similar titles to bestsellers to lure the unwary into buying them. Examples include the I am the Girl with the Dragon Tatoo and Thirty-Five Shades of Grey.
We almost feel ashamed dignifying these productions with italicization and mention in our blog. They are not good; they are not even trying to be good. They just want to glom on to another author’s success and leech some sales by virtue of title similarity. Since titles can’t, in general, be copyrighted, all this is perfectly legal. Or maybe not—one expert in the piece suggests prosecution may be possible on grounds of fraud.
Another phenomenon mentioned in the story are books that are nothing more than compilations of Wikipedia articles and blogs on some important topic, slapped together without regard to narrative arc or even coherence, and sold as authoritative works.
Such are the dangers of the Wild West of modern, online publishing. Maybe Kathi and I will go ahead with our plan to write A Farewell to Barns.
Have you been cheated by someone selling you a bogus e-book? Tell us your story.
As authors, advice givers, and readers, your Author Enablers give a lot of thought to the idea of originality. When we write our next book, we want it to be a fresh offering for the readers of the world. We want our unique voice(s) and perspective to come through, and we want entertain the reader with a story or message that is different than any they have read before.
On the other hand, as the biblical philosopher said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Sometimes it seems that every subject has been written about, every story idea explored. In one of his essays, our friend Roy Blount Jr. once said many stories can be summed up in three simple phrases: papa – boo boo – bye bye; boo boo – papa – bye bye; and papa – bye bye – boo boo. (Any pronoun can be substituted for “papa.”)
One afternoon Roy was babysitting for his two year old grandson, who began to fiddle with the fireplace screen. Worried that he was going to pinch his finger in the screen, Roy tried to take the fireplace screen away from his grandson, managing in the process to pinch the little boy’s finger. His grandson looked at the blister and then looked at his grandfather with a face of betrayal, and said, “Papa – boo boo.” The next day Roy was flying back home and his daughter and grandson were seeing him off at the airport. As he headed down the ramp, the little boy remembered what had happened, turned to his mother and said, “Papa – boo boo – bye bye.” At that point, said Roy, his grandson became a storyteller.
Many great tragedies are built on that threefold plot: King Lear: papa – boo boo – bye bye; Oedipus Rex: bye bye – papa? – boo boo, boo boo, boo boo, boo boo, etc.
There are other, less entertaining formulas that say something along the lines of “all plots can be reduced to three, or four, or seven” types. Does this mean writers should give up and stop trying to be original? Is there nothing new to say, no new stories to tell? Absolutely not. Each generation, each reader cries out for fresh material and new perspectives. The formulas are not the problem, and can even help us to understand that we are part of a grand tradition. The world and every person in it are so mysterious and profound, life so precious, that new stories, ideas, and guides are not only possible to invent—they are essential.
The hard part, of course, is writing something original. Simply copying the styles and techniques that have come before doesn’t do anything to advance the cause of knowledge and art, or even entertainment. Originality is difficult to define, but we all recognize imitative and uninspired work when we read it. The writer’s job is to be inventive and imaginative. It’s hard work, requiring diligence and discipline, but someone’s got to do it.
Here’s something we can do to as readers to support originality: read an author you haven't read before. Go to your library or local bookstore and find a fresh voice, and if you like their work, spread the word. Spend a little money on a new book. Bookstores and vast majority of writers aren’t getting rich, and we all need each other to keep this wonderful process of creation going.
Series 2 of the popular TV drama "Downton Abbey" has just two more weeks to go on PBS. What's a fan to do when the upstairs/downstairs intrigue ends (other than wait for the Christmas special, of course)?
Books hold the answer. As I've said before, World War I has been a hot topic in publishing lately, and the runaway ratings for "Downton" have made it an even hotter commodity. The following books should help tide fans over until the premiere of Series 3 (filming now, with Shirley MacLaine added to the cast).
If you enjoy . . .
the exploration of the effects of WWI on society
then you should read . . .
The Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear (Harper). Winspear's series is set in the 1920s and '30s, but its heroine—once a maid in a great house, now a private investigator—personifies the changing times, and takes on cases that are rooted in the damage done by the war.
The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller (HMH). This sensitive debut novel tells the story of a young WWI veteran investigating the apparent suicide of one of his fellow soldiers. Look for a sequel this summer.
Life Class by Pat Barker (Doubleday). No one has explored the legacy of World War I quite like Barker. Though her Regeneration trilogy (beginning with 1991's Regeneration) is perhaps better known, Life Class details the pioneering days of plastic surgery, first developed to help disfigured veterans.
Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor by Rosina Harrison (Penguin). This spirited account of one young Yorkshire woman's 35 years as a maid to the infamous Lady Nancy Astor was first published in 1975 and has been reprinted to capitalize on the "Downton" craze.
The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons (Penguin). Though set just before and during World War II, this novel puts an interesting twist on the upstairs/downstairs dilemma when a young, upper-class Jewish woman escapes Austria to work as a maid in an English manor house.
Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery. One of the few novels about World War I to be written almost while it was happening—the book was published in 1921—Montgomery's final installment of the Anne of Green Gables series follows Anne's youngest, Rilla, who must grow up, and fall in love, in the shadow of the war.
Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull (Delacorte). This 2000 debut tells the story of a World War I soldier who comes to know his friend Daniel's fiancée through her letters to him. When they meet 10 years after the war (and Daniel's death), there's a connection between Patrick and Julia that can't be denied.
An Evening of Long Goodbyes by Paul Murray (Random House). This Wodehousian novel, which follows shiftless Bertie, a member of the Irish aristocracy in its waning days, is full of hilarity and heart—just like everyone's favorite Countess.
The Beauty and the Sorrow by Peter Englund (Knopf), which will take you right into the trenches with letters and diaries from 20 soldiers who fought at the front.
To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild (HMH), which gives an in-depth look at the political mood in Britain as the war broke out—particularly the pacifist movement. Portraits of aristocrats at war should also appeal to the "Downton" devotée.
The Titled Americans by Elizabeth Kehoe (Atlantic Monthly). This nonfiction account of the lives of the three Jerome sisters—rich Americans who married British aristos, and one of whom became the mother of Winston Churchill—is a "beguiling chronicle" of the Edwardian era, replete with descriptions of homes, dresses and extramarital affairs with royals.
The Luxe by Anna Godberson (Harper). OK, it's a YA novel, and it's set in 1890s New York City, but it's a "Downton" companion in spirit! Just consider it the background story on Lady Cora Grantham.
Yesterday, we shared six new romance series to look out for—in addition to the three that are highlighted in the BookPage print edition. In our research of new romance series, we contacted three romance experts from the publishing industry. We shared a few of their quotes in a sidebar about series, but they had way more interesting things to share than what we could fit in a half-page feature.
Here, they dish on current romance trends and the enduring popularity of the genre.
Erika Tsang, executive editor at Avon:
What subgenres are you seeing on submission?
We’ve been seeing lots of small town, community focused contemporary romances on submission. I believe readers are reacting to the world around them; in times of trouble, we’re drawn to the familiar, to our core values. So it’s really no surprise to me that this subgenre is coming back.
(Editor's note: Readers, if this is you, check out A Town Called Valentine by Emma Cane, book one in the Valentine Valley series!)
Why is romance so popular?
Because everyone wants and dreams of a happily ever after.
Amy Pierpont, editorial director of Forever:
What subgenres are you seeing on submission?
More than subgenre, what’s really catching on with readers are stories with deep emotional threads—stories that make us laugh and cry—these are the novels, and characters, that resonate most with readers no matter the subgenre.
What is relatively new is the desire from readers to see blended genres—Steampunk is a good example, as is our very own Kristen Callihan’s historical/paranormal Darkest London series. The idea that readers can have the best of both worlds, the gothic, dark atmosphere of a paranormal with the intrigue and drama of a historical is really appealing.
(Editor's note: Read a review of Darkest London #1 here.)
Why is romance so popular?
Romances, at heart (forgive the pun), are stories filled with hope, faith and happiness. Three things we all search for, and want more of in our lives. The idea that two people can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds, that no matter your past (mistakes, heartbreak, missed opportunities) you can find love and happiness, that good WILL overcome evil every single time—these are themes that resonate with all readers. Romance readers just know which aisle of the bookstore to head to first!
Dianne Moggy, VP of series editorial and subrights at Harlequin:
Have you heard any buzz about what subgenres romance readers want now?
In romance fiction there are classic themes and story types that are enduring. Those include the alpha male hero, cowboys, secret babies, marriages of convenience, community or small-town romances. We have always taken our cues from our authors—who respond to their readers and to the cultural climate--and have recently noticed a rise in submissions featuring modern retellings of classic fairy tales. We’ve also seen a rise in novels featuring wealthy heroes, which may speak to the global economic situation and our authors’ and readers’ desire for escape.
Why are series so popular with romance readers?
The key reason that ongoing series (in both our single title publications and in our romance lines) are popular with readers is that they develop a connection with the characters—they want to know what happens next, what happens to the reclusive neighbor, will the high school sweethearts reunite? The reader becomes invested in these characters, in their community and/or their situations, just as fans of ongoing television dramas or sitcoms tune in to weekly installments of their favorite show.
Thank you, Erika, Amy and Dianne! Readers: What subgenres of romance push YOUR buttons?