WELL, COME ON OVER HERE MATT, because in YA it is speculative fiction, which includes science-fiction, fantasy, dystopia, paranormal and dark romance and horror, that gets the BIG DEALS and HOLLYWOOD and ALL OF THE STUFF of my title.
So where does that leave YA contemporary and my writing? Well, I’d like to propose, as Matt does, that boundaries are artificial and that the BEST fiction lives in the wild borderlands between reality and fantasy. First of all, back to school…
concern for fact or reality and rejection of the impractical and visionary
a theory that objects of sense perception or cognition exist independently of the mind
the theory or practice of fidelity in art and literature to nature or to real life and to accurate representation without idealization
Definition of METAPHYSICAL (Merriam-Webster)
of or relating to metaphysics of or relating to the transcendent or to a reality beyond what is perceptible to the senses supernatural
Time-travelling back to my young teenage self I am reading EVERYTHING in West Harrow library, from Sweet Valley High to S.E. Hinton. My favourite books, though, are by Diana Wynne Jones, Ursula le Guin and Madeline L’Engle, all writers of speculative fiction.
I now read vast amounts of children’s and YA writing (MA student in Children’s Lit-YAY!) and the books I love are often similar (Pratchett, Pulllman, China Mieville and Ysabeau Wilce) but sometimes in the grittier genre of YA contemporary or YA realism (Siobhan Dowd, John Green, Joanne Horniman, Cath Crowley and Kevin Brooks to name a few.)
Are they actually so different?
The term literary realism comes from the 19th century novel and in YA refers to novels set in a present-day world, often with an adolescent dealing with family breakdown, drug and alcohol use, love, sexuality and other ‘stuff’ that happens when you are growing up. The YA realism novels I adore have a metaphysical element and not only because of their lyrical, reflective prose, or because literature, art and music feature as a means for the protagonist to escape reality.
I think what I love in these books is a sense of something unresolved and unexplained. In Looking for Alaska the protagonist is haunted by the violent death and sad life of the girl he loved. Kevin Brooks’ Lucas is a mystic loner, with almost supernatural powers. Lucy in Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley wanders the city looking for a mysterious graffiti artist, alias ‘Shadow.’ Absent or dead parents, siblings or love interests haunt the protagonist’s everyday reality.
Adolescence is a fantastical time, a time of changes in body and mind. We are not surprised when Shell, in A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd loses touch with reality after a traumatic event, or when Kate in Secret Scribbled Notebooks, by Joanne Horniman, constructs false memories around her absent parents.
Stories, ‘realistic’ or ‘unrealistic’ help us to make sense of our lives. Story worlds are imagined ones; whether they contain pitbulls or dragons, pop stars or princesses. All depends on the degree of imagining. For example, reality shows such as X-Factor or Pop Idol recur as a trope in YA or MG narratives–surely these are just another form of fairy godmother? Or to take it the opposite way, is Twilight at heart the story of an ordinary girl loved by the heir to a wealthy, hostile family, much like Pride and Prejudice?