I’ve spent quite a bit of time this summer reading some exceptional YA. Most notably, Mockingjay (of course) which I will write a separate review for soon. However, I also just finished Incarceron by Catherine Fisher and Fade, the second book in the Wake series by Lisa McMann. And here’s what I loved about each of these stories: a strong female protagonist.
While each main character is different in their personality traits and quirks, what unites them all is an undeniable strength. Whether it’s Katniss in Mockingjay, Jane in Fade or Claudia in Incarceron, each young woman shows that she has the ability to fight for what she believes in, take life as it comes and even find love, all while not compromising her beliefs. And while taking action.
And this is what separates these young woman from certain other literary heroines who are popular right now. (I’ll give you a hint, starts with a “B,” ends with “Ella.) None of these girls sits by and waits for things to happen. Even when it’s painful, uncomfortable or downright scary, each of them will take risks to either protect those they love, make a stand or sometimes both.
These characters and themes are a great segue to a panel I attended this weekend at the Boston Book Festival in Copley Square. A YA-centric panel, entitled “What’s hot and what’s not in YA Fiction,” the author’s on the panel were Noni Carter (Good Fortune), Kathryn Lasky (The Guardians of Ga’Hoole), Francisco Stork (Marcelo and the Real World) and Kristin Cashore (Graceling, Fire). Each writer, as varied in their careers and styles as one could imagine, offered interesting insights into the world of Young Adult Fiction.
While none of them felt particularly qualified to classify what was hot or not in the genre, all the authors agreed that Young Adult books have common themes: who am I? What am I doing here? How can I make a difference? The YA novels with these basic questions at their center and engaging characters are often the most beloved. They also spoke of trends in YA and as Kathryn Lasky said, “A writer can’t write toward a trend.” Later, Kristin Cashore explained that while getting Graceling published, her agent explained the process. As Kristin realized she’d be proofing the book about ten times before it actually went to print, she asked, “I’m going to be so sick of this book when this is over, aren’t I?” And the agent said, “Yes, so you better love it.” If you write toward a trend, there’s no guarantee it’s what you love to write and chances are you’ll hate it before the process has even really begun.
I think with most YA literature, adults and young readers alike have that immediate reaction — love or hate. It isn’t often you meet a young reader who’s nonchalant about a book they’ve just read or are reading. For the most part, those “whatever” books, don’t often get dog-eared after the first chapter. Why? Because we love it. Or we hate it. But the books we keep talking about, The Hunger Games and The Book Thiefs of the world are the books we love. The books that pose the fundamental questions of who am I and why am I here?
And though I have yet to read a book that answers those questions succinctly, I have enjoyed many nights reading about characters struggling to find answers, just as I am.