Look, I love the Next Big Thing. As a reader, it’s fun to follow trends, to see how the explosion of one genre leads to the blossoming of another, and to watch the elements of stories — a paranormal love interest, a supernatural parent — combine and re-combine in endless configurations. As a librarian, having a plethora of choices to recommend for fans of dystopias or steampunk or vampires makes my job easier. But there’s one huge drawback to always searching for the next big thing: all the small things that we ignore in favor of it.
There are some books that will never be part the Next Big Thing. Quiet books, challenging books, sometimes just books with bad timing. These books don’t get a Facebook campaign and a nationwide author tour, and that’s fine. Publishers have limited resources; it doesn’t make sense to launch a huge campaign for every book. Being off-trend, though, does not a bad book make, and if we as readers, librarians, and lovers of YA fiction (and nonfiction!) are always swept up in our search for the Next Big Thing, then no one is looking out for the good stuff that isn’t part of a trend.
Let’s look at an example: one of my favorite YA books of the last few years is Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi. It’s a funny, moving novel for older teens about a girl dealing with her father’s death, in part by working at a funeral home and going to school to study mortuary. It’s slowly-paced and character-driven in a way that might not work for all readers, but most people I know who’ve read it have loved it. But while stories about grief and grieving aren’t uncommon in contemporary YA, I’m guessing that mortuary science will never be the Next Big Thing. Putting Makeup On Dead People has 463 ratings on Goodreads — that may sound like a lot, but only until you compare it to Divergent (154,099 ratings) or Sarah Dessen’s latest novel, What Happened to Goodbye, which is another contemporary coming age of story (21,456). Putting Makeup on Dead People didn’t get the buzz of a dystopia like Diveregent, but I discovered it anyway — and I’m glad I did!
Luckily, while the Next Big Thing is everywhere, there are also ways to find the good, small things that might slip through the cracks. Right here on The Hub, we have a feature called The Best Books You’re Not Reading. You can also check out the nomination lists for Best Fiction for Young Adults, the Readers’ Choice list, and other YALSA lists — you’ll see trendy things nominated, but you’ll also find books that just one reader read and loved enough to nominate. So this month, while we’re thinking about the Next Big Thing, don’t forget to keep your eyes out for a new undiscovered gem.
— Emily Calkins, currently reading My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher
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