Thursday 15 March 2012

Guest Post: YA Novels by Katheryn Rivas

What makes the best YA novels?
With the wild popularity of books like The Hunger Games, Twilight, and His Dark Materials, I think it’s safe to say that young adult novels aren’t going anywhere any time soon. But their massive appeal begs the question: is there some way to quantify what makes a great young adult novel? I don’t think you can reduce a work of fiction to a science, but I also think there are some clear reasons why certain young adult novels become such huge successes and others never find a big enough market. Here are some of the themes and qualities that I speculate may make for a successful young adult novel.
Series or stand-alone book?
First things first, I’m curious about whether or not readers prefer to read a series of books centered around the same universe and characters, or if they’d rather read one long work about those same people and places. I think the clear answer is that a well written young adult series will always have more appeal than a stand-alone work simply because it continues the story.
Just take a look at the untouchably popular and influential Harry Potter series: J.K. Rowling knew that the depth of the story that she wanted to tell couldn’t be contained in one book, nor could it even been bound by the standard trilogy. She successfully spanned Harry’s story over seven books pacing, the events perfectly with every new year at Hogwarts. The lesson from her books and from countless other young adult series is clear: if you can tell a good story, don’t limit yourself to one sprawling book. Give yourself the room to let characters grow over several installments.
Supernatural beings and powers
There’s no secret that supernatural creatures and characters with otherworldly powers appeal to young readers. Many readers want to feel a sense of awe and wonderment when they delve into a story, so it makes sense that successful young adult novels feature main characters that run with vampires, trolls, ghosts, werewolves, zombies, fairies, and any other supernatural being you can think of. These creatures can be sources of great wisdom or objects of chilling fear and everything in between. Most important, fantasy creatures give young readers the chance to stretch their imaginations to their out limits, which is an exercise that every reader should do.
A smart combination of reality and fantasy
The best young adult novels blend elements of our ordinary world with fantasy in an attempt to make young readers imagine a world not so different from our own. Again, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series does this brilliantly by suggesting that an entire world of magic lies just outside the reach of the normal person (or muggle, if you will). It seems like these hybrid fantasy/reality novels do a great job of making young readers think about certain aspects of our society that they might not have considered otherwise. For example, certain elements of Harry Potter deal with discrimination (think of the magical purebloods vs. muggle-born magic users subplot), while parts of His Dark Materials clearly deals with questioning established authority figures as a child. It speaks to the emotional depth that young adult novels can achieve.
What qualities do you think make the best young adult novel?
This guest post is contributed by Katheryn Rivas, who writes on the topics of online university.  She welcomes your comments at her email Id:


Unknown said...

A series can potentially be better than a stand-alone, I agree - but there has to be enough complexities to spread over the length of several books, instead of trying to overstretch things. Harry Potter, as mentioned in your post, is a great example of an epic, along with Stephen King's Dark Tower series (which is not YA, but it makes a good example otherwise).

Redwall by Brian Jacques and its sequels (Mossflower, Mattimeo, etc.) do get a bit less appealing over the series' duration - still good, but I prefer the first - and is not one huge story, but rather several stand-alone tales in the same world. That must also be done with caution. A friend of mine stated once that epic fantasy belongs on the adult "Fantasy" shelf due to its typical lengthiness and due also to YA's obligation to address teen issues. Urban fantasy, he says, is OK for this section.

In short, I think series can be great, but one must use greater caution prior to writing one. And agents will be less eager to buy ideas that are one long book or broken into installments than they are with medium- to small-sized novels. It happens, but not as often.

OK, scratch the "In short" bit. I've been a windbag. But I liked the post! Good job.

Unknown said...

Awesome post! I think a love story is a must for YA, even if it is complicated! Twilight proved that and even if people don't like it. They can't deny that it made people want to read again. I'm testimony to that.
Janiera @This is From my Heart