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The Best Books You Aren’t Reading: Timing and Its Discontents

Young adult literature has trends, there’s no denying it. And although some readers will find and enjoy a good book regardless, the timing of when a book is published can affect how much attention it gets. Publish early, before a trend gets going, and it may be overlooked; publish later, when a trend is in full bloom, and risk reader fatigue with the genre and over-familiarity with its tropes. No wonder that predicting publishing success can look a lot like trying to read goat entrails.

For today’s edition of the Best Books You Aren’t Reading, I’d like to point out a few great reads that you may have overlooked because of timing.

First up, post-apocalypses and dystopias. The Inferior by Peadar Ó Guilin was published in spring 2008, a few months before The Hunger Games lit up the genre like a lightning bolt. There are ways that the premise is similar–the main character, Stopmouth, is a hunter, and like Katniss, a significant amount of his life revolves around providing food for his family.

Stopmouth’s world is pretty clearly a post-apocalyptic one–he lives in a tribal society with near-Stone Age levels of technology, but his tribespeople have made their homes in the ruins of abandoned buildings. However, this world is more overtly science fictional than Panem: Stopmouth and his tribe share the world with other sentient species, and every healthy adult dreads the day that he or she will grow too old to work and be traded to one of the neighboring species for meat.

Stopmouth is innovative and clever, but he’s viewed as slow-witted by his tribe because of a stutter. When a mysterious flying globe crashes in his village and reveals a woman named Indrani inside, Stopmouth becomes fascinated with her and embarks on a journey to understand more of his world. In the process, he uncovers secrets that are as horrifying as the Hunger Games.

One of the things I love about this book is that Ó Guilin explains relatively little; he simply throws readers into Stopmouth’s story and expects us to figure it out gradually, so the readers’ journey parallels Stopmouth’s. The Deserter, the sequel to The Inferior, just came out this spring, which will hopefully bring some new attention to the series.

Publishing in an already-crowded field can be challenging as well, and what genre is more crowded than paranormal? Even if you have paranormal fatigue, here are a couple of titles you shouldn’t miss if you like the genre at all.

One is Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. Bryn is an anomaly: she’s a human being raised by a werewolf pack after her family was killed by a rogue wolf. As such, she’s protected by the pack but outside its structure, and she makes as much use of that freedom as she possibly can. When the pack and her father-figure, the frustrating alpha wolf Callum, start keeping secrets from her, Bryn will do anything to solve the mystery, even if doing so might be bad for her own safety.

What draws me to this series again and again is Bryn; in a lot of ways, it’s about her journey from rebellious outsider to powerful leader as she learns to cope with responsibility and make agonizingly difficult decisions along the way. Yet she never stops being a rebel and shaking things up. Yes, there is a significant amount of romance, especially in the first book, but Bryn’s journey is always front and center, and her relationships with friends and family are as significant as the romance.

Another great paranormal read is the brand-new Silence by Michelle Sagara. I picked this one up with a tiny bit of trepidation because the author has written several excellent high fantasy series for adults, but Silence is her first paranormal and her first YA. Not every adult author crosses over well. I shouldn’t have worried–Sagara has a fresh take on the familiar trope of “I can see dead people,” and the writing is absolutely lovely.

When I read this first paragraph, I knew I had a winner:

Everything happens at night. The world changes, the shadows grow, there’s secrecy and privacy in dark places. First kiss, at night, by the monkey bars and the old swings that the children and their parents have vacated; second, longer, kiss, by the bike stands, swirl of dust around feet in the dry summer air. Awkward words, like secrets just waiting to be broken, the struggle to find the right ones, the heady fear of exposure–what if, what if–the joy when the words are returned. Love, in the parkette, while the moon waxes and the clouds pass…

Everything, always, happens at night.

Emma doesn’t quite feel real in the daytime, especially since her boyfriend Nathan’s death; she spends her nights walking her aging Rottweiler, Petal, in the graveyard down the street where Nathan is buried. Her life is stuck in a holding pattern, until an unsettling encounter with a ghost and an equally unsettling encounter with a new classmate who knows way too much about the dead–and about her. Like Barnes, Sagara has a strong feel for the dynamics of family and friendship; I particularly like Emma’s friendship with Michael, who has autism. It’s not a big deal in the story, just part of who he is.

Wherever a book falls within the trend cycle, it can be tough to get attention, and reviewers and bloggers have an important role to play in highlighting a wider variety of titles. So here’s your chance to play—recommend a title in the comments that hasn’t gotten enough attention because of timing or trends.

— Erin Bush, currently reading Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin (and lots of Avengers fanfiction)

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