Some of you might have heard of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. You know, that book that’s been on the NYT Bestsellers list for 10 weeks now. Which got a movie deal before the book was even released. Or, what about Becky Albertalli’s The Upside of Unrequited which debuted on the IndieBound Besteller’s list. Now take a look at the rest of the Young Adult NYT Bestsellers list. Yeah, that’s right. Contemporary YA dominate.
“Contemporary YA is dead”. That’s what I saw floating around on Twitter last week. Naturally, several YA authors and bloggers jumped in to defend contemporary YA, with some really excellent tweets and threads.
There is, however, an argument to support the statement that “Contemporary is dead”. You ready?
It’s that white, straight, cis, and able-bodied narratives are dead. The genre is oversaturated with this stuff, so sometimes it takes a hard sell and something original to get marginalised readers to pick up your work. We want more than just the old recycled and regurgitated tropes, romances, characters and plot lines. So, if you’re an author who believes Contemporary YA is dead, perhaps it is on it’s way to being so – for you.
Publishing still has a lot of work to do. But there are more and more marginalised authors, who do still have to fight twice as hard to get published, finally being recognised and having their work traditionally published. 10 years ago, traditional YA didn’t have protagonists like Dimple Shah, Lara Jean, or Starr Carter. Now readers are seeing themselves more and more represented. There are, however, numerous readers that STILL haven’t yet seen themselves represented. We still have a long way to go.
Speaking for myself, most of what I’ve read this year has been contemporary, a genre I rarely used to read. It’s a genre that is catching my interest and attention more and more, as I believe it is for a lot of other readers. Is it the fact that contemporary is leaning more towards being more inclusive, diverse, with #ownvoices authors? Is it because recent contemporary YA are discussing important topics, being more daring, brutal, and honest and accurately representing society? Is it because contemporary YA now includes more than just romance? There are more sub-genres and unique books hitting the market. There are more books which feature characters of colour, written by authors of colour. More LGBTQIA+ #ownvoices books, that don’t just focus on coming out. There is still a while to go BUT an increase in these books prove that the genre isn’t dead – but it is broadening.
A little off topic here, but I think it’s worth mentioning: while I do believe YA is changing and publishing and the industry are definitely improving, problematic content that is ableist, transphobic, homophobic, racist are still being published over, and over. The recently released SAD PERFECT by Stephanie Elliott has been called out, and reviewed here, for bad representation concerning a newly identified eating disorder called “ARFID”, or “avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder”. ELEANOR AND PARK by Rainbow Rowell is a book consistently called out for being racist, yet also consistently hailed as a brilliant piece of writing. And these problems are never addressed by the authors.
While contemporary YA is thriving, and YA in general is more inclusive, and the blogging community is more active and critical than ever, writers who feel like their books that feature a white, straight, cis, and able-bodied narrative are not always wanted or needed in the market are maybe right, but that doesn’t mean that their work will not be published or find a market, because it will. But as bloggers and reviewers, we need to continue uplifting marginalised authors.For all you aspiring contemporary writers out there – KEEP WRITING! It’s important and I guarantee readers want to read your writing. And you bloggers out there – KEEP BLOGGING! & show your love for YA contemporary.
Now, to finish off, here are some fantastic YA contemporary recommendations, alongside some of our most highly-anticipated contemporary releases that you will want to keep on your radar: