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31 Days of Authors: Teens’ Top Ten: Where’s the contemporary?

Teen Read Week is officially October 16th through 22nd, but here at The Hub, we’re celebrating all month long with 31 Days of Authors. On each day in October, we’ll bring you author interviews and profiles and reflections on what YALSA-recognized books have meant to us.

YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten lists are filled with great books. These are titles that teens are really excited to read about, almost naturally! They gravitate towards these books because of the great writing, the exciting adventures and the daring characters that make the stories come to life. But in the last several years, there’s been a noticeable trend for the Teens’ Top Ten to highlight many paranormal or sci-fi related books. And that’s great! If teens are reading those books, that’s exactly what we want. I just hate to see great realistic fiction titles languishing on the Teens’ Top Ten when they would be a very easy way to promote other contemporary readalikes within this subgenre of YA.

While there were sadly no straight-up contemporary titles this year (though Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall contains many contemporary elements), this has not been the case in previous years. Usually there are always one or two realistic fiction titles that make the cut.

In 2010, three great contemporary titles made the Teens’ Top Ten List. Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen is a great example of contemporary teen literature. She is a perennial favorite of teen girls and her books continually make various YALSA lists. They are great reads, present contemporary teen voices, and have that romance angle that many teens are looking for. Sarah Dessen is an active voice in the YA author community and she her titles lead naturally to some other great contemporary YA writers like Jenny Han, Deb Caletti, Susane Colasanti, and Siobhan Vivian.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson is another contemporary title that targets the “issue” novel. Laurie Halse Anderson is a familiar face to many readers of YA because her books are downright amazing. They hit emotional note after emotional note and they do not pull any punches. Wintergirls can be a natural lead in to other “issue” based books (though I hate using that word for these books because the books are about so much more than the “issue.” They are about the characters!). Sarah Darer Littman’s recent release Want to Go Private? tackles a very difficult subject in YA world: the internet and teen loneliness. Joshua Cohen’s Leverage is another intense story that is perfect for your guy readers who may be want to move in the realistic fiction genre. Perhaps at some point these authors will be making Teens’ Top Ten lists! The other 2010 contemporary title is Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, an emotional and sad read if there ever was one. Janet Gurtler is a natural recommendation for Forman’s honest voice and plots that breathe emotional resonance.

The 2009 Teens’ Top Ten lists brings several other perennially popular teen writers: John Green, Ellen Hopkins, and E. Lockhart. Of the contemporary authors on the 2009 lists, E. Lockhart is my favorite, but there is no doubt that Ellen Hopkins and John Green hold a great place on the teen reading shelves. These uber-popular authors are on the Teens’ Top Ten list for a reason: teens love their writing. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to use these already popular authors, who have their share of fame amongst teens, to spread the wealth and get some new faces on the Teens’ Top Ten list, especially when it comes to realistic fiction.

Michael Northrop, Sarah Darer Littman, Erin Dionne, Gae Polisner, Leila Sales, Brent Crawford, and so many more. I love that Teens’ Top Ten is all about the teens and what they want to read. But, if librarians, teachers, book sellers, and YA reading adults are not doing something to promote these contemporary voices, they will never stand a chance of making it to the Teens’ Top Ten. Teens know and recognize Laurie Halse Anderson and John Green. But I bet they could learn to love some other realistic fiction YA writers too. In many ways, these lists are a face of the times, of the fads and celebs teens love during that particular moment in time. Realistic fiction has a place on that list and it is up to more than just publishers to promote it, up to more than just chance that teens will find it on their own.

If you need a little assistance in knowing what contemporary titles are currently available, one great resource is The Contemps Blog which highlights new titles and fun ways of promoting those titles. Another resource that highlights a mixture of YA titles but with plenty of great contemporary coverage is YA Outside the Lines. Fun posts that could be great idea starters for book talks, displays, videos, and more.

One day I hope to see a Teens’ Top Ten List where 7 out of the 10 titles are realistic fiction. Readers, you can make this happen!

— Sarah Wethern, currently reading Sign Language by Amy Ackley (realistic fiction for the win!)

3 Comments

  1. I am the author of a contemporary-ish YA memoir, and I have zero fear that the wolves-and-angels trend will pass. Because…doesn’t everything? It’s been raging for a while, and at this point, agents are actively stating, “Don’t send me paranormal,” because they know the next big thing won’t be that.

    As an educator, I can hand any reluctant reader a contemporary “issue” book, and they’ll eat it up and ask for seconds. I’m not sure of how the winning books get counted, but here’s a theory: it’s the middle-class teens who are reading the paranormal. My alternative-school teens, and all the teens in struggling-reader classes at public high schools, are digging the Ellen Hopkins-esque. Sure, there are plenty of middle-class teens, but there are just as many, if not more, non-middle-classers. Could it be that the active voters are the middle-class-voracious-readers-who-actually-get-to-the-library, whose-parents-actually-buy-them-books, and those are the voices who get counted?

    PS: got to do it. If you want to check out a sample chapter of my upcoming YA memoir, about my time in a cult masquerading as a drug rehab, go to http://www.straightling.com !

  2. Mark Flowers Mark Flowers

    I have to say, I’m a little perplexed by the request for more realistic fiction. It seems like every year at awards time, we hear about how Printz and Best Books are way too heavy in realistic contemporary fiction — I remember last year it was a big deal that Shipbreaker (an SF title) won the Printz.

    Seems like the Teen Top Ten is a perfect response to that — if teen’s want to celebrate the create SF/Fantasy/Speculative titles out there that don’t get the big awards, more power to them.

  3. For the most part, I’m a realistic/contemp girl, so I found this year’s list a bit disappointing. Not to say the books on the list aren’t great books! But it would be nice to see a more well-rounded list genre-wise. We’re gonna have to work hard promoting all the great contemp that’s out there!

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