Thursday, June 9, 2011

Think About It: Contemporary YA Books

If you look at the YA section in any bookstore, you'll see a lot of dark books. Some are thrillers and supernatural, but many of them are contemporary. These books are dark, don't deny it, but they're important. Important to the people that share the problems of the characters.

When this genre is attacked for the mature and often terrifying subjects it tackles, bloggers and authors alike cry injustice. The main argument is that these books are real, these issues are real, and that if you don't write or read about them, you're shutting out the entire world. They are real, and some people live them every day. BUT, it's not everyones' reality, and just because you don't read about them does not mean you're ignoring them. I am fully aware of the troubles in the world, things I have thankfully never experienced, but I don't have to read about them to know.

Other authors and readers will argue that not all books are about self harm, drug abuse, suicide, and rape. Not all books have teens drinking and having sex. That's true. There are some really clean books out there, and I am unimaginably grateful to the authors of those books. But how often is it that you find a contemporary YA book like that? If it's not an issues book, it's completely unrealistic. Vampires, teen spies, aliens, time-travel, dragons, magic. None of those things are real, and while those books are fantastic, it'd be nice to read a realistic book where no one's suffering. Yes, there is suffering in the world, but there are also people who are not struggling with difficult issues, but for some reason, no one seems to want to write about them.
Now, I'm only saying this because someone is bound to bring it up in the comments. Chick-lit is usually contemporary, no faeries or anything. I know that. But chick-lit is hardly realistic (at least, the chick-lit I've run across). It takes everyday occurrences and blows them completely out of proportion, or creates totally unrealistic circumstances from the beginning. And 90% of the time, the only point of the book is that female lead end up with male lead. Just to be clear, we're not talking about chick-lit here. We're talking about plain old contemporary YA.

So, how real are contemporary YA books? Not as real as you'd like to believe. They only show you a small glimpse of the world, only drag you into the darkest shadows of humanity. While those books usually lead you and the characters into the light by the end, they tend to forget the people that have always been there.

One final note on the subject. Books are not harmless. Anything that has the power to help also has the power to hurt. Just like life-saving medicine can have dangerous side-effects, nothing created by human hands is ever completely good.


Zombie Girrrl said...

This is the best thing you've evr posted.
It feels to me like the industry's insistence that these books are "real" is merely an excuse to propigate scandal. They like to seem edgy and dark and wounded because it's "real".
It's not real for me. Where's my reality in contemporary?
I have many oter thoughts on this, but I'll cut myself off before this turns into a nonsensical ramble.
Great post! I especially liked the end.

Jess Day said...

You're right. book aren't harmless. Just look at Uncle tom's Cabin.

Jess Day said...

It helped put an end to slavery. Talk about a powerful book!

Bethany-la said...

Interesting post. I get where you're coming from. When I was in middle school I was in my "dark" phase. It was very easy for my to find books to my liking. I still read all kinds of genres, but the darker ones especially. I personally liked reading about darker real issues though (or darker non-real, whichever). Nowadays though I'm more "normal".

The thing is, why would a book be interesting if someone wasn't suffering in someway. One has to overcome challenges in their life, they have to suffer, and that's what makes a book have "umph". Many people read to either remember or forget. So they want something that would pull their mind away from their reality, even if it is someone else's pain. Many people already know about the normal sides of humanity, because they live it. I would like to read normal "real" contemporary YA books though, just to get other perspectives. But honestly, who's lives are actually interesting? I have no idea what I'm going on about right now. I'm just typing whatever is coming to my head right now to be honest. I feel like I'm rambling...And have no clue what I'm saying...okay...

On another note I noticed (since, you know, you blogged about it) that you were beginning Bleach. Well my brother's actually trying to sell volumes 1-30 so if you wanted...just saying xD It wasn't because it was bad, it was because he was done with them. yeah! :)

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you, Ren.

Books with dark topics have their place ... and they can be very helpful, especially for people who are going through very difficult times themselves ... but bad things always have and always will happen in the world, and it's not necessary for every author to get edgy and issue-y for us to get that.

I already know that horrendous things happen in the world and I don't need them to happen in every one of my books, too, because that is just depressing.

Also, I don't believe that characters MUST suffer terribly in order for books to be great. I LOVE books about normal people, because of their wonderful characters and interesting stories, and I'm sure there are a lot of other people who feel the same way.