A Call for Variety

YA does rather seem to be The Topic in the world of entertainment media, doesn’t it? I’ve [link]mentioned before[/link] that it seems every movie is a YA adaptation, and that the most popular books are from this genre, courtesy of multiple demographic appeal.

Unfortunately, we’re still in a bit of a hangover from the ‘00s, and to some extent the ‘90s. These decades, we really haven’t had much truck with this ‘upbeat’ thing, particularly the ‘00s. Coming off the ‘80s, where the defining names in fantasy were Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind, we kind of took a left turn into George R. R. Martin. I’m not saying that Jordan and Goodkind didn’t have bad things happening in their books, or that they didn’t get dark … but I think I’m safe in saying they’re wish fulfilment and just overall triumphant in a way that Martin was actively trying to steer away from. The ‘00s brought us China Mieville and similar works, a renewed obsession with the Industrial Revolution/Steampunk and, of course, the dystopian YA fantasy. Harry Potter gives way to the Hunger Games. The works of Meg Cabot give way to brooding vampires and tortured souls caught between monster and humanity.

I’ve had a few conversations with people who are basically sick of the trend of dystopian YA fiction. The market, according to these people, is glutted with YA books almost in name only, seemingly all trying to outdo each other with how ‘dark’ they can get before people decide to stop giving them to their kids. Someone decided to show swearing and teenage sex, so somebody upped the ante with systemic violent aggression or teen pregnancy, and it all went downhill from there.
I do think there’s a point there. I mean, I love that authors are treating teens basically like adults with less life experience; there’s great value in having books that explore harsh issues, because hey, there may well be kids going through these things. Not necessarily being forced into a nation-wide televised deathmatch, but deaths of loved ones? Regret? People who want to use them for their own ends, rather than for the kid’s benefit? Yeah, that happens. And it’s sometimes nice to know it happens to other people as well, and that it’s possible to work through it even if it may suck. Sugarcoating everything for kids and teens helps nobody.
But on the other hand, note the use of ‘everything’ in that last sentence. Sugarcoating everything? Bad. Having some books that reflect just plain fun and hijinks and whimsy? I miss that. Stuff like the Bartimaeus trilogy, that wasn’t necessarily all happy and shiny, but wasn’t The Harsh Realities of Life, either.

I mean, even if we’re going to keep with this dark-and-edgy thing (and I hope we don’t entirely, because variety is nice), let’s get some other kinds up in here. Dark, but not in a realistic way. Bring back the movies like Jim Henson used to make, books like Darren Shan used to write. Neither of those are gritty realism with dying sisters and parents and abject poverty and cancer, but they’re also not happy and shiny all the way through. Darren Shan’s books had better not be – they’re horror! Terrible things happen in those books, but not in a way obviously connected with reality. Characters can be relatable in their misery without having an experience that it’s possible to have in real life.

I really like it that YA seems to be trusting kids to deal with heavy stuff. I’d just like some variety in the genre.
If anyone has YA recommendations that don’t fall into the standard gritty realism, feel free to drop them in the comments. It might be that someone else is looking for the same thing.