Monday, December 15, 2008

The other thing that bothers me about a lot of contemporary YA literature.

Okay, I get that the teen years are turbulent , emotional times, and that many teen girls are drawn to drama. I am embarrassed to admit that I, myself was that way as a teen. I even wrote ultra melodramatic (and bad) poetry that I unfortunately shared with a few of my boyfriends. Which is why I always tell budding writers to ABSOLUTELY NOT share your ultra melodramatic and bad poetry with your boyfriends (especially if it rhymes, or sort of rhymes . . . well, you know, assuming that you ignore a few syllable accents here and there).

Because if you actually ever do become a writer you will always be worried that should you get really famous your bad poetry will show up on ebay.

It just isn’t a situation you want to put yourself in.

But even when I was a melodramatic teenager often drowning in self pity and cynicism, I still liked to read cheerful books most of the time. I devoured romances and loved comedies. I did read Go Ask Alice, (Everyone read that book.) and probably a few other edgier books, but truly, if they had all been that way, I would have stopped reading after about the fifth book and never picked up another novel.

Which is why it worries me that all of the non-fantasy YA books I’ve read recently are excessively turbulent, dark, and angsty. I’ve read book after book and not only is the reading material depressing, I’m wondering if all teenagers have awful, horrible lives. Oh and as a corollary, I’ve also learned that guys are basically evil and untrustworthy. Girls aren’t much better—at least not if they are pretty.

I’ve compiled a list of situations that I’ve found in the last oh, about ten high selling YA contemporary books that I’ve read. You may set this to the tune: The Twelve Days of Christmas. (But I will not make you go through all twelve verses.)

On twelfth day of reading, I found in YA literature:
Ten cheating boyfriends/fathers
Five betraying friends
Four drug users
Three fatal car crashes
Three alcoholic, neglectful mothers
Two abusive boyfriends
Two overbearing violent fathers
Two date rapes
Two anorexics
Two undeserved slutty reputations
One unplanned pregnancy
And a suicide.

And mind you, this is the stuff that sells well. Probably better than my books. Which makes me wonder if I’m in completely the wrong genre. Maybe teenage girls just don’t want to read romantic comedies any more. Maybe kids who don’t want angst and edginess stopped reading long ago. Maybe they all just switched to other genres.

Fantasy readers still seem to like happy books. And yes I know there are dark and edgy fantasy novels too, but I imagine if you picked up ten random well selling fantasies they wouldn’t all be that way.

So yeah, I’m definitely thinking about making a full time jump to fantasy. My Fair Godmother was a super fun book to write and it’s already getting great reviews. I think I could be happy doing fantasy.

29 comments:

Nerd Goddess said...

But if writers like you change genres, then where do girls who want to read funny, uplifting, modern books go? I wish I had read more of your books when I was in high school, instead of other contemporary drudgery. Mind you, I read a lot of YA fantasy, too, but I think there is, for sure, a niche out there for books with characters whose lives are funny, and whose stories end happily.

Annette Lyon said...

Crimey--it's enough to make me freak out over my daughter getting older. I'm glad I've got at least one author I know I can recommend. You'd better keep writing, regardless of the genre!

megs said...

I honestly don't want to sound like a kiss-up, but your novels always make me smile. Even if they're not best sellers, I know several kids that love them and are grateful for a highschool plot without the ugliness. So, even though I an anxiously awaiting your fantasy novels, I love your modern books. Teens need to have the choice!

Janette Rallison said...

Oh, you guys are so sweet! Now I just need about, um, 100,000 more of you and I'll be set.

Tristi Pinkston said...

What bothers me about these edgy books is that people say, "But they're so real! They're about real life!" If these are the kinds of books we're reading, then these are the kinds of realities we're making for ourselves. Why not read cleaner, lighter books and create cleaner, lighter realities?

Heather B. Moore said...

Yes, sad.

If you write another fantasy-type book, it will be great :)

Janni said...

(looks at her dark post-apocalyptic fantasy)

(decides she's not qualified to comment on the relative cheeriness of fantasy novels)

:-)

Janette Rallison said...

Yes, but not all of fantasies are that way, nor all of your books for that matter. And yours does end happily, right? Right? I'm not reading it if you don't assure me it ends happily . . .

tenacious d said...

I agree with Tristi. When I look at my high-school-age kids' lives, they are much more like Janette's books than Gossip Girl. In fact, they're not in the least like Gossip Girl (thank heavens!).

I am so grateful that you write what and how you write, Janette.

JaredNGarrett said...

Hey Janette,
Hear, hear!
Why read stuff that depresses? Oh sure, some would say that art can be depressing and still be art, but that's only true in two cases:
1) It has to actually be art, so it has to show real aesthetic quality, which most of these books don't do. Because they're just not well done at all; there are so many holes and such boring characters that they simply suck.

2) Art is effective if it points out depressing issues of life, and even disturbs, but it should also shine a light on the redemptive facets of human existence.

These books you talk of don't do that. They titillate and appeal to base facets of human existence and society.

So they are crap and so on. The take home lesson? Keep doing your work, because it has lessons, entertains, includes enjoyable and fresh characters and puts a smile on readers' faces.

Lillian Syville said...

I can't read Gale Carlson Levine because she doesn't have happy, sattisfieng endings to her stories.

Anonymous said...

I love your happy romantic comedy books so much! not all teenage girls like to read depressing stuff. me and all of my friends are obsessed with It's a Mall World Afterall, and books by similar authors such as Meg Cabot. Definitely don't switch genres! what would we read after going through a breakup or something if we cant read a funny book to make us smile again?

Pepsi said...

Thanks for your kind words! I definitely have two more of my "regular" books on the way because one is due out in March and one I sent in to my publisher and I'm waiting on the revision letter. (shudder)

Rachelle said...

I agree and why do some YA writer's think that all teenager's and their parents, and every other character in the book need to use such horrible language?
Please keep writing!

Janette Rallison said...

Oops, I was signed in as my daughter . . . well, actually my daughter's cat if you want to be specific. For some reason she named her black cat, Pepsi. (Perhaps because she doesn't drink Pepsi she has never noticed that cola isn't black. We don't question her methods.)

Sandra said...

Janette, you would be good at any genre you write in, and I love your romantic comedies!

On a related note, I get a weekly email from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)every week with links to news articles related to literacy and education. This week's has a link to an article in The Washington Post entitled "Plot Twist: The Newbery May Dampen Kids' Reading":

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/15/AR2008121503293.html

The article talks about (depressing) content as well as the types of books kids choose to read on their own vs. the ones that adults choose for them.

Janette Rallison said...

Great article, Sandra! Thanks for the link!

Suey said...

Oh, I do hope you keep going with the romantic comedies. They are wonderful. Though the fantasies sound fun too and I'll read them.. but don't drop the others!

Julie Wright said...

Oh you are singing my tune! After a meeting with an editor at a big house in New York, I found myself totally shell shocked by the new things coming out that she is soooo excited for. "Someone wrote about THAT?" I wondered. And yet they had. There will forever be a place for your boks Janette. I love a good comedy about love. And like megs, I'm goign to sound like a kiss-up, but I don't care; you're a great writer and i love your books!

Julie Wright said...

I am a writer . . . I really do know how to spell books

Janette Rallison said...

Gee, and I was just trying to find a place for my boks.

(Okay, I can't really ever make fun of anyone for spelling errors since most of mine are not typos--they're creative ways to spell words.)

earwaxtasteslikecrayons said...

One thing I like when I read is sympathetic characters--ones I can relate to. I have a hard time relating to some of the over-the-top drama found in so many YA books nowadays. Your books remind me of what high school was really like for me; your characters are real and they make me laugh. At the end of the day, that's what I want in a book--well, that, and a little kissing.

Thanks for writing such great books.

Wendy

Joelle said...

Ummm...has anyone told Meg Cabot that girls don't like romantic comedies anymore? Never fear...here are some good reads for you, my dear! How's that for bad poetry? Keep it in case I'm famous.

WHAT WOULD EMMA DO? by Eileen Cook
REALITY CHICK by Lauren Barnholdt
BUT I DON'T WANT TO BE A MOVIE STAR by Margaret Pinder
SAVING JULIET by Suzanne Selfors
BETTER LATTE THAN NEVER by Catherine Clark
THE YEAR MY SISTER GOT LUCKY by Aimee Friedman (maybe not a romantic comedy, but a great read all the same)
PEELED by Joan Bauer (same note as above)
GEEK MAGNET by Kiersten Scott
GEEK CHARMING (not out yet, but really good!)
SUITE SCARLETT by Maureen Johnson

Does this cheer you up at all?

Laini Taylor said...

I think this is why I read (and write) fantasy! Angst is an essential teen component, but it's not enough. As for funny: if you can, DO. I think that's the hardest thing to do; if you're not funny, you can't fake it. Funny = good. Keep writing it!

Ariana said...

Ok well i'm a teenager and I have to say that your books are a lot more realistic than the others. In my school there are no suicides, pregnancies, etc. I sound like I kissup like Megs, but I really love your books! My humble opinion is that if you want to write fantasy, then go ahead, write fantasy! But don't forget about your other genre too and for the sake of teenagers wanting GOOD, HAPPY, books please write some more of those. :)
- Ariana

Ann said...

I've been struggling with this whole issue myself, Janette. Some days I feel like my days as a YA author are numbered.

Michael said...

Wow, it's really refreshing to hear these sentiments coming from someone other than myself!

Back when I took a YA Lit class in college, we were assigned a reading list that I think really did a disservice to the students (many of whom hadn't read a YA book since the 1960s). The list was full of award-winning books about psychotic teenagers, mothers who wanted to go into lesbian relationships, and post-apocalyptic futures where killing babies was the norm.

Don't get me wrong -- I think there's a place for all of this hard-edged stuff (and I admit I enjoyed reading a few of them) but there really should have been some comedies, romances, or simple escapist fare thrown into the reading list. If the media has been accused of skewing teen perspectives on reality, then this reading list probably skewed a lot of adults' perspective on YA lit.

Honestly, I've always gravitated toward more lighter fare myself -- and if current trends in the movie industry are any indication of what type of material people are going to be looking for in their books, then there will always be a place for comedies, romances, and romantic comedies.

Nuff said!

Anonymous said...

I love your books! I am not into fatasy much at all. I find it more comforting to read about things that actually happen (its even more of a comfort when the embarrassing stories aren't half as bad as mine!) If I am upset about something I read your books b/c they make me laugh. Fantasy just doesn't have that same effect. Thanks for all your books! I guess i don't care what genre it is THAT much. Please keep writing!

Anonymous said...

PLEASE WHATEVER YOU DO DO NOT STOP WRITING ROM COM!! ITS THE SAVING GRACE OF YA LIT!! I CANT STAND MOODY LIT!!!