Contemporary YA Fiction

The librarians over at Stacked recently did a week-long love fest for contemporary young adult literature. Since this came hot on the heels of a certain newspaper saying today’s contemporary is “darker than when you were a child, my dear: So dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things in novels directed, broadly speaking, at children from the ages of 12 to 18,” it’s terrific to see contemporary YA highlighted in it’s full glory.

It’s also terrific to see today’s contemporary examined and championed in such detail. As you can see from clicking thorough, there is a variety of available titles — if you just know where to look.

Stacked began by asking, Why Contemporary?  They note their inspiration for the week long celebration, the Contempts blog (authors blogging about contemporary young adult literature). Stacked defines contemporary lit: “Contemporary is a setting — the now — but it’s also a grounding in reality. Contemporary ya lit transcends just being a story set in today’s world; it’s lit that has something to it that’s actually timeless. Good contemporary stories get to the heart of any challenge, any story, and that heart is something that reads honestly whether the story itself was published yesterday or ten years ago. It’s more than being an “issue” driven lit, and it always has been (despite the fact that it was “issue”-driven lit that began the growth of contemporary lit in the first place). Contemporary lit is truth driven. Some of the best contemporary ya lit out there actually delves little into “issues,” but instead, it delves into a slice of life and shares that story, that moment, the things that happen then.” This first post not just defines contemporary, but explains why teens want, why they read it, and why librarians and booksellers should know about it and promote it. The subtitle of this post could have been, “there’s more to YA than paranormal!”

Over a week, Stacked provided a number of booklists, with different themes and topics. Stacked highlighted Kelly’s Pick List: Contemporary YA to Read. She informs the reader, “I should say I lean toward the edgier, heavier topics, but I’m going to make the effort to toss in some lighter contemporary, as well. I also make no promises on not spoiling the plot on some of these.” Here’s what I love about reviewers — they can recommend something without gushing. Or, even recommend while saying “I didn’t like this book, and I hated both the main characters. But you know, that’s what made the book work and that’s part of why it’s so powerful.”

Justine Ireland (of the YA 5) provided a guest post of the Top 5 Contemporaries You Aren’t Reading (But Should Be). Contemporary Picks # 1: Friends, Lovers, Countrymen covered friendship, love, and rural life. Contemporary Foundations: Major YA Contemporary Titles You Should Know covers the “must know” titles. Who is being “should”-ed? Not readers; rather, those of us who help connect readers to books, whatever you want to call us (librarian, book seller, whatever). If you’re going to do readers advisory, in my humble opinion, you need to know beyond what you like and what you read.

The next Contemporary Picks List included titles for Religion, Sexuality, and Life After High School. Yes, quite the mix of titles! It includes belief and non-belief for a variety of religions; sexuality is “more specifically, coming to terms with the fact you might like someone of the same sex. Or you might identify with the opposite gender more than your own. Or that there are other people like there with these same identity questions as you,” and life after high school includes stories about teens who don’t go on to college.

A second guest post was by none other than Patricia McCormick, author of Cut, “on being 15.” I’ll quote this: “Thinking of myself at fifteen makes me cringe. I was on the debate team. I plastered my hair with Dippity-Do, then rolled it in empty juice cartons. I made my own clothes—including a pair of yellow culottes that I wore with yellow sneakers and a homemade perfume of lemon juice and baby oil.”

The third Contemporary Picks list features Loss, Sports, and a Grab Bag of Tough Stuff. 

Stacked took a break from lists to Advocate for Contemporary YA Lit: “contemporary ya lit doesn’t get the marketing or publicity bucks behind it that so many other genres do. Pay attention to the advertisements you see around for books — do many of them look familiar? Do they target the same few books over and over? What about the standing displays at book stores, the promotional events, and even the books that are reviewed multiple times throughout the blogosphere? So few, if any, are contemporary books — most of these titles end up as mid-listers, as the books that require the author and readers to do much of the leg work in promotion.”

The final list is for Contemporary Middle Grade Lit, with titles that have appeal for those ages 8 to 12. Many of the main characters are in middle school — seventh or eighth grade.

By the time you’re done going all through those posts, you’ll have a ton of books to either read or recommend. Also, if you have suggestions for other titles, please share!


6 thoughts on “Contemporary YA Fiction

  1. What a great round-up! Thanks for making me aware of this, lots of material to chew on during down times at work 🙂


  2. Thanks so much for posting about this, Liz. I hope people walk away with a few titles and an appreciation for contemp ya lit — something that’s so underappreciated in the midst of a lot of big titles getting big $$ (though it’s ok to like those, too!).


  3. David, there are so many books in those posts that I want to read. Some great lists.

    Kelly, we can do our best to point out, “YA…more than vampires.” Thanks for such a wonderful week long series.

    Annie, me, too!

    Linds, I cannot imagine how much work went into all these posts.


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