BEA 2012: The Evolution Of The Young Adult Genre

Have you ever wondered why some books are hot the moment they hit and others take time to find their niche? What makes a book popular and how come book trends are changing? These are exactly the questions that moderator Sabrina Rojas Weiss, the Senior Editor of VH1 Celebrity, asked when she led a panel of Young Adult fiction at this week's BookExpo America publishing conference. The six published authors that joined the discussion were: Bethany Griffin, Jenny Han, Tonya Hurley, Melissa Marr, Elizabeth Norris and Siobhan Vivian. If you weren’t able to attend, here’s a look at what you missed.

From left to right: Authors Tonya Hurley, Elizabeth Norris,
Melissa Marr, Bethany Griffin, Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian

The women started the discussion by talking about how much the YA genre has grown into a true niche for teens — that adults happen to like and even just on today's panel there was a lot of diversity. It's not just "here are some blood-sucking, tortured vampires" or even, "check out this dystopian world," Young Adult is a vibrant genre with stories that showcase a wide range of situations and settings. To illustrate this point, the authors on hand represented this wide range by sharing a look at their most recent and upcoming stories.

Siobhan Vivian and Jenny Han co-wrote Burn for Burn. They told us that the series was inspired by the idea that "junior high Avengers can go back in time and fix what has gone wrong addressing the crimes of mean girls (and boys). This is very much a story about having power," said the authors.

Bethany Griffin headed in a different direction when she tapped into the world of gothic stories for her book Mask of Read Death. This tale for teens reimagines Poe's short story by the same name adding characters to the bleak setting was her inspiration. (Fellow panelist Melissa Marr recommended this read, calling it "intense.")

On the other hand, Marr is taking on the supernatural and the dystopian for her upcoming YA Carnival of Souls. She gave the audience a snapshot of the story saying that it takes place in a world that is split between a post-apocalyptic demon society and modern world. The author said, "there's love, family and fighting to the death — because that's just good fun." She shared the upcoming story was inspired by a Five Finger Death song and a visit to Italy's coliseum.

And Elizabeth Norris treated readers to a look at Unraveling, a story she calls a "sci fi thriller set in present day." She added to the plot with "a ticking clock and stakes that are personal and high" which were inspired by the types of books that she likes to read.

Finally for a story of a different shade of interesting paranormal antics, Tonya Hurley rounded out the group. She shared the synopsis of her new series The Blessed, letting readers know that the upcoming books are about three modern girls in Brooklyn that are the reincarnation of three historical martyrs.

And just like these writers are tackling different types of tales, they all have very interesting backgrounds, inspirations and writing styles. We can't share everything that went on, but the audience did learn several interesting tidbits about each author. RT's Whitney said, "My two favorite reveals were definitely that Marr is inspired by folklore and Norris has got tons of discarded, but half-written manuscripts on her computer and one may be worth revisiting later. I love hearing about what may be coming down the line from authors, and getting excited about the types of tales we might be treated to."

The authors also got into an interesting discussion about the amount of swearing that goes on in YA novels. Some authors are very cautious with the language that they use, knowing that it's going to a young audience. (Han is a member of this camp.) While other authors pay very little attention to it. Although we were interested to hear Norris' anecdote that because she's a teacher by day, and the kids in her classroom swear all the time, she didn't think twice about adding that type of language into her novel. However, after every pass that her editor took over the manuscript, there were fewer and fewer swear words at the end.

But whether or not YA novels are a real representation of how much teens swear, several of the authors do try to say away from "message books." Griffin shared that she doesn't think it's important to have a particular lesson for teens to learn, but that reading does make teens more prepared to think critically and make their own judgments. Vivian agrees saying that she and Han tried to "capture the shifting power dynamics" with Burn for Burn rather than get across a particular point.

This lead to one of the most interesting moments in the discussion, when the authors talked about adult readers of YA novels. Marr thinks about her books "as a mom" and writes for her audience with her kids in mind. Marr continued saying that no matter what her adult readers ask to see on the pages of her YA stories, she tries to avoid unnecessary swearing, sex and violence. 

And, for the wannabe writers in the audience during the discussion, all of the published authors on stage agreed on one thing. Teen readers know when a teen character isn't acting "real." And when teens don't like how a character is behaving, they won't pick up the book — so, in these authors' opinion, if you are crafting a YA, don't write for the adult readers but for the teens that are the backbone of the YA audience. 

Want to learn more about BEA? Stay tuned to the RT Daily Blog. And for all the latest news and reviews in the genre, be sure to check out RT’s Everything Young Adult Page!