YA Exhaustion

This past weekend, the Times Book Review published one of their semi-annual children’s book supplements, and I have to say, it made me a little sad. Typically, the reviews are either raves or at least generally positive, which makes sense considering how few books get reviewed—seems like it should be easy enough to feature the good ones. Yet running through the YA reviews, I sensed a collective disappointment, if not for the books themselves, then for the YA genre.

For one, it seems like there’s a lot of ink about trends and sub-genres like dystopian, time-travel, problem novels, etc., and how the current crop of book measure up (or don’t) to their predecessors.  It also feels like the reviewers go out of their way to highlight conventions and clichés, like dead mothers and green-eyed boyfriends. Even the rave review for Mary Hooper’s Fallen Grace opens with a lament for the state of kids’ historical fiction.

Taken as a whole, it just feels like the readers aren’t particularly excited by these books, even the ones they like. Which makes me wonder if there’s some general YA exhaustion going on here—have the post-Twilight, high-concept, paranormal “big” YA books finally run out of steam and taken down everything else as well? On the one hand, I hope that’s not the case, because I think there are plenty of original stories to be told in YA, especially ones with more realistic settings. On the other, maybe some of the creativity will trickle down to middle-grade now, which (as I’ve written before) is in need of a serious reboot.

What do you think? Are you feeling any YA ennui? Do you find the latest crop of books just isn’t doing for you? Or am I just projecting negativity here (it is a pretty crappy day outside in NYC)? Please share!

18 Responses to YA Exhaustion

  1. josin says:

    I think it’s easy to get into a head space where you go looking for things to critique, even if the thing you’re critiquing isn’t bad at all. If you’re looking for problems, you’re going to find them. If you’re looking for cliches, then you’ll see them.

  2. Ciara says:

    I’m not feeling YA ennui at all. Every day I add another few books to the huge list of YA I feel I absolutely have to read. I’m biased but I do think it’s the most exciting part of the literary scene. But I suppose a backlash is inevitable. If it is in a slump then I think it’s because it needs another huge hit. Maybe I’m wrong but The Hunger Games was the last runaway success wasn’t it? Time for a new one, whatever the genre.

  3. Lisa Marie says:

    Well, let me be blunt. I’m an adult, so I don’t read YA novels written for tweens/teens unless it’s to vet it for one of my godchildren. What I do know about the reading demographic is that tweens/teens are reading less and less, which is why YA accounts for such a negligible market among freelancers. I suspect in the case of “Twilight,” which incorporated the very adult themes of marriage, sex and childbirth, the readership was split between YAs and adult women at least equally.

    The challenge of the publishing industry is that there’s two distinct markets for these books. It’s rare that publishers can make both camps happy unless they isolate the various elements in YA that appeal to both. So many agents looking for YA. Nothing but YA, or primarily YA. I think there’s ultimately going to be a large surplus of this type of YA gathering dust in bookstores for the next couple of years. If it were me, I wouldn’t touch YA with a barge pole; rather, I’d be looking for adult-themed fiction written at a YA level.

  4. Stephen says:

    If I’m being honest, some of the recent YA releases (at least on their surface) seem like repackaged versions of mega-popular books. It’s like we barely get a chance to absorb one, before another that is very similar is released. I’m fine with reading another vampire or dystopian novel – in fact excited to do so – but they must stand apart from what’s already out there. Take me in a new direction. Don’t retread familiar ground. Certain themes, like love triangles with hunky but jerky guys, or schools for the paranormally gifted (respect to Prof X and Hogwarts), I think have been covered adequately. At least for a while.

    But (!), there’s also some authors out there that are doing some very original, and very entertaining work. Just one example: INCARCERON by Catherine Fisher felt new and exciting, while still being high-concept, big YA. That said, I hear some good things about DIVERGENT from friends who’ve read the ARC. I’m definitely going to give it a try…

  5. Bethany Neal says:

    I think this is a classic case of expectations being set too high. Not to say we shouldn’t hold YA lit to the highest of standards, but it’s the reason I try (unsuccessfully) to never hype up a book or movie to my friends. They will inevitably be let down after I gush over it for hours. YA is so hot right now that every book is expected to be a Twilight.

    I do think a lot of novels–especially paranormal series–have maybe been rushed to print recently to take advantage of the hotness of the genre, but I don’t think the negativity is merited. I do feel like now is a time to cool off on the paras and embrace CONTEMPORARY YA FICTION–uh oh, I said a bad word. (She says sardonically.) Character driven contemporaries are my favorite to read AND write. Give the chance in the pop cultural sun, I promise they’ll sparkle brighter than a Cullen!

    PS Where are all these green eyed BF cliches? I can’t recall one off hand, so clearly this green eyed BF trend is a yam sham because I am YA love interested Wiki. 😉

  6. I’m not feeling YA ennui. Most of the books I read are YA, and while part of the reason I do that is I write YA, it also happens to be the only genre that has really interesting books right now—overall. I think any time you see a market expanding as rapidly as YA, you’re going to see a lot of garbage being put out there to address the demand for more new stuff all the time. (Some of the new books with pretty covers are really, really bad.) When YA was a smaller part of the market, I think it’s fair to say that publishers and agents were choosier, but I think the Times Book Review was just being overly negative. I’ve never cared much for their reviews anyway.

  7. LupLun says:

    “All this has happened before, all this will happen again.”

    Seriously. These things go in cycles. I remember around twenty years ago (That long? God, I feel old. >_< ) everyone was trying to be the next Anne Rice. That trend burned out around the turn of the millenium, and then everyone thought the new, angsty vampire was dead and buried. Five years later, along comes Twilight, and now we’re swimming in bloodsuckers again. Recently, there’s been talk that they’re going out of style, so, yeah, there’s a chance that in months or years you won’t be able to give a vampire novel away. Then people will be calling the subgenre dead and buried, and a few years later it’ll be back.

    Same with YA dystopia. People say The Hunger Games started that. While it was certainly a watershed, are we forgetting about The Chocolate War? Or the Tripod books? Or Lord of the Flies?

    Hell, take YA in general. I remember back in the early 90’s everyone thought it was gone and forgotten. Kids don’t read anymore, the thinking went, they watch cartoons and play video games all day. Along comes Goosebumps, and people thought differently for a while. Goosebumps went away, and the conventional wisdom reverted to “Kids don’t read.” Along comes Harry Potter, and the naysayers reconsider. Pottermania peters out, and they say “Well, that was a good ride, but the kids don’t seem to be jumping to other books, so that’s not going to happen again.” Up comes Twilight, and they flip-flop like it’s election year. Twilight is fading now, so we start hearing “Kids don’t read” yet again. The big wheel keeps on turnin’.

    I been a gamer since the 80’s, and I’ve seen that industry go through several genre crashes. Fighting games, JRPGs, Graphic adventures, MMORPGS, Military FPSes, and so on. It always goes the same. First there’s some breakout hit which inspires creators and makes publishers see dollar signs. Then a lot of people start turning out similar titles. Some are good, some are bad. Slowly a genre forms, grows, and keeps growing until people get sick of it. Then there’s a crash. The consumers go elsewhere, the publishers follow, and people starting declaring the genre dead. But when the dust settles, you always find creators who understand the value of the genre and are still typing merrily away. And you know what? They’re typically the people who were driving the boom to begin with- turning out solid material with voice and meaning while everyone else was producing knockoffs.

    TL;DR: Relax. There will always be ups and downs, and even during the downs there will be people doing the genre proud and getting respect from the audience.

    P.S.: Consider that part of the problem with the Times may be that the boom has left them overworked and badly in need of a vacation.

    • Tone says:

      Excellent post. I think readers will always love a story well told, as long as they get to read it. Like journalists, publishers tend to hunt in packs.

    • Maya says:

      Agree with the PS. Part of the problem is that we’re looking at this through the adult lens of market analysis. Has anyone asked the YAs if they have YA fatigue?

  8. John says:

    Wow, talk about a pick-me-up! Maybe it really was just the rainy-day blues talking–great to see so many positive feelings about YA. Stephen, I totally agree with you on INCARCERON (be sure to check out SAPPHIQUE, too), and I’ve heard a lot of good things about DIVERGENT as well. Anyone else have recommendations?

  9. Tegan says:

    I buy for an independent book store’s YA section, and I think there are still many great books coming down the pipeline. I have to admit that I started rolling my eyes in January at the Winter Institute when every publisher tried to tell us they had “the next HUNGER GAMES.” Yes, I loved that series and wish I could read it again for the first time, but even though I loved DIVERGENT and ENCLAVE and the upcoming LEVERAGE, I am not looking for Katniss’s clone when I pick up YA books. Some of my favorite unique finds have been CHIME by Franny Billingsly, WORDS IN THE DUST by Trent Reedy, and upcoming UNFORGETTABLE by Loretta Ellsworth.
    Viva YA! For teens and adults!

  10. I think with YA being so big, there’s a lot of good and mediocre. It seems like every agency is looking for the next YA to go big. I just finished Divergent and can’t decide if I love it more than Hunger Games. It’s really well done. You should read it, it might change your mind.

    • John says:

      Hey Tegan, thanks for the recs–I’ve been meaning to snag a copy of CHIME for a while now, and WORDS IN THE DUST sounds very interesting. And it seems like there’s a consensus that we ALL need to read DIVERGENT!

  11. LEllsworth says:

    I often wonder about The Times reviewers – so often their reviews seem condescending when mentioning YA. But there are some great books being published – wonderful authors like Laurie Halse Anderson, M.T. Anderson, Gary Schmidt, R.A. Nelson, etc (I could go on and on) continue to write compelling books. I’ve heard great things about CHIME and plan to buy that. I’ll check out WORDS IN THE DUST and DIVERGENT as well. I still think this is an exciting time in YA literature. And thanks, Tegan, for mentioning UNFORGETTABLE.

  12. Liesl says:

    I love YA, but I must admit that I’m feeling a little YA exhaustion. Even if the writing is good, I see so many of the same ideas cropping up again and again and AGAIN. The YA market just feels a little flooded. Everyone’s jumping on the band-wagon.

    But this post makes me feel glad that I write middle-grade.

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