Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Realistic YA Revolution

I'm all kinds of fired up for revolution this week, aren't I? The #90minWrite revolution (and info on that is here if you haven't seen me tweeting incessantly about it) and now I'm fanning the flames of the Realistic YA Revolution that Tara Kelly is calling for. What can I say? This is how I deal with life when it gets rough. I sulk for awhile and then I remember that only I can change things or decide to be a part of something that is inspiring and will create change. It's a mindset I developed in high school when I discovered Riot Grrrl as I was dealing with the damage caused by an abusive relationship. The cry of "Revolution Girl Style Now!" really motivated me. So why not cry out, "Revolution Writer Style Now!" when I need motivation in that part of my life?

But I digress. We're here to talk about the Realistic YA revolution.

I saw Tara Kelly's blog post about started a Realistic YA revolution a week ago when I was rushing to get packed to travel to a panel called "Writing The Dark" about dealing with realistic, tough issues in YA fiction. Tara talks about the way contemporary realistic YA can be overlooked as these types of books don't often get a big budget from the marketing department. She mentions that she's heard (and I have to) a lot of readers say they *want* more realistic YA out there and they want it to make a splash the way urban fantasy and dystopian has. But in order for publishing houses to seek out more realistic YA and put the money behind it so that it can make a splash, readers have to show how much they want it by buying the amazing books that are already out there. Tara lists some of her favorite realistic YA books (and I was extremely honored that Tara, an author I admire greatly, named IWBYJR and BALLADS to that list). She encourages you to talk about the realistic YA you love in the comments and help spread the word about this realistic YA revolution that we are trying to start. In return, Tara is giving away an ARC of her forthcoming realistic YA, AMPLIFIED, which I for one would die to get my hands on and a bunch of other authors put up signed copies of their books in the contest (including me, I put up BALLADS), so what are you waiting for, read Tara's blog, comment, spread the word and enter! You've got another week, the contest ends June 30th.

I'm glad to see this enthusiasm spreading about contemporary realistic YA books. I was particularly thrilled to read this post on Stacked, which I believe brilliantly sums up contemporary YA as "truth-driven," and says that from a librarian's perspective that is exactly what teens are seeking. I know it is what I was seeking as a teen and as I've repeatedly said that's what drove me to become a writer. I wanted to tell those stories I needed by I couldn't find. On our "Writing The Dark" panel, I was asked why I write about the dark and I explained that I do so to shed light on it. A lot of the issues realistic YA writers write about are shrouded in secrecy or taboo and when a teen is coping with them, he or she feels very isolated. The more conversations that we start about these subjects and the more stories we tell, the more people can find their way out of the darkness and feel less alone.

I read books of all genres, but I tend to always come back to realistic YA as my favorite both to read and to write. The Bartender Book is "women's fiction," my first venture into writing for adults. (I guess. It's kind of crossover-y just like IWBYJR and BALLADS were.) But it is contemporary realistic whatever it is. I know my next project will be YA and right now I'm struggling to choose from three ideas. One is paranormal/urban fantasy, another is post-apocalyptic, and the third, newest idea is another contemporary realistic YA. Maybe it's because it's the newest idea, but right now it is tugging at me the strongest. It's another book that I know will rip me inside out to write like BALLADS did, but it's a story I really want to tell. So for that selfish reason, I would love to see a realistic YA revolution so my book will be able to find a home, but more importantly it will be able to get into the hands of the readers who may need that kind of story. I also want more books like these to read.

These are some of my favorite realistic YA books. If you haven't read them, I urge you to hit up your favorite bookstore or library and check them out to show the world that you are eager to read realistic YA.

To me SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson is the mother of all realistic YA. I wish I had this to read in high school. It shows exactly what realistic YA is about: having a voice.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen is another essential finding your voice, your strength and your place in the world realistic YA read.
Another incredibly powerful book from Laurie Halse Anderson. This one kept me up all night and ripped my heart to shreds.
As Tara says on her blog, I would concur, Courtney Summers reminds me why I write and I wish I could be as amazing as her.

This is another one that might have made life so much easier for me-- or at least I would have felt like someone got it--if I had it as a teen

Tara's book is a must for those who love music and struggled fitting in.

To me this is such a heartbreaking but true statement about where teenage girls fit into the world and what can happen because of it.

One of the most beautiful and heartbreaking stories I've ever read. Laura Wiess is another one of those authors who I totally idolize. She speaks the truth and creates such real, survivor girl characters.
This explores the complexities of the teenage girl friendship in a way I haven't seen done elsewhere and it rang very, very true for me. Scarily true.
Another classic of course. When I was worried about my agent shopping IWBYJR as YA, she told me YA had changed since I was in high school (even though I was only in high school in 1997 which doesn't feel that long ago) and told me to read LOOKING FOR ALASKA. I was floored and realized that yes, finally the YA books that I needed to read were being written.

A book about teen pregnancy that is so much more than a book about teen pregnancy, it's about friendship, family, living in someone's shadow and coming into your own. Again, Holly Cupala=Idol. I aspire to write as beautifully told and meaningful stories as she does.

This one is almost mean of me to mention because I've read it and you can't until October, but do yourself a favor and pre-order it now. This book punched me in the chest so hard. It's as powerful as a Laurie Halse Anderson novel. It may be my favorite book of the year.

And here is the realistic YA that is next on my TBR pile. I've heard so many amazing things about it and after sitting on that panel with Swati and hearing her talk about why she writes realistic YA, well, she is already on my list of literary idols, too.

Feel free to tell me what is next on your realistic YA reading list and what realistic YA means to you. But don't forget to comment on Tara Kelly's blog post too so you will be entered to in the mother of all realistic YA contests.

Viva Contemporary Realistic YA fiction!


Harmony said...

I love this. I think I'm going to have to blog about this myself. I love my paranormal books but I always find myself coming back to contemporary.

I'm going to have to go on a bookshopping spree soon - you and Tara both mentioned some books I really wanted to check out.

Such a Pretty Girl is a fantastic book. Laura's new book, Ordinary Beauty, is even more amazing.

So jealous you got to read Holly's book! I can't wait til it comes out!

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Please do blog about it, Harmony! It will help spread the word and I know you will have a good take. I am the same as you as a reader. And I just ordered Ordinary Beauty. Cannot wait to read it!

Shooting Stars Mag said...

Some of my all-time favorite books and authors are realistic YA. It's definitely want I read the most, and what's I write. I really hope there will be a revolution for this. It needs to happen.

I love your work, Steph, and Willow by Julia Hoban and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky and Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson and oh so much more.


Stephanie Kuehnert said...

I hope there is a revolution, too, Lauren and thanks for doing all you do to help promote YA books. I'm honored that you list mine in your list and WILLOW is a fabulous choice too. Love that one!