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31 Days of the Next Big Thing: Adventure Time!

YALSA’s upcoming YA Literature Symposium will explore the future of young adult literature. The symposium begins on November 2nd, but we wanted to get a head start here at The Hub, so we’re devoting October to 31 Days of the Next Big Thing. Each day of the month, we’ll bring you forecasts about where YA literature is headed and thoughts on how you can spot trends and predict the future yourself.

“Adventure” is one of those genre labels that, for me at least, gets murkier and less precise the longer I think about it. I start out excited to write about stories of exotic locales, heart-pounding action, and danger, danger, danger, and end up wondering if half of all contemporary YA fiction couldn’t be classified as “adventure.” I mean, look at the definition of “adventure fiction” provided by the WorldCat Genre guide: “works characterized by an emphasis on physical and often violent action, exotic locales, and danger, generally with little character development.” It’s kind of vague and I’m not sure I actually agree with it anyway.

The 2006 edition of Diana Tixier Herald’s Genreflecting posits that “the pure adventure, a story involving a hero (or heroine) taking risks and overcoming dangers to complete a journey or task, is a form on its own — and in fact, it is probably the oldest recorded genre in existence.” That sounds more like it, but applies to an awful lot of fiction and indeed, a quick Google search reveals an assortment of related or similar labels, things like Action-Adventure, Survival, Fantasy Adventure, and the like. If any story where action is at the fore and where the main character faces danger in the pursuit of a goal is considered “Adventure,” I have to wonder where one genre ends and another begins. Or if it even matters.

My go-to adventure novels have always been Armstrong Sperry’s awesome tales of scientists, sailors, and explorers in the South Pacific, or the Amazon, or New Guinea. Though Call It Courage, which was awarded the 1940 Newbery Medal, is certainly his best-known book, it’s the sadly out-of-print Frozen Fire, Hull Down for Action, and The Rain Forest that I return to embarrassingly often. (And yes, the books are rather dated and most certainly products of their time, but they are also first-rate adventures written by a truly gifted writer.)

So when I think about adventure fiction, I think about Armstrong Sperry, or the authors who inspired him like Robert Louis Stevenson and Jack London, or followed him, like two-time Newbery Award winner Scott O’Dell. I think about more contemporary authors as well: Will Hobbs, Iain Lawrence, Robb White, Gary Paulsen, Roland Smith. I think about tales of daring and exploration, of men and women overcoming impossible odds to survive hostile surroundings or untrustworthy companions. I think of treasure, travel, and courage.

One of YALSA’s 2012 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults lists is “Adventure Seekers,” and it’s a great list. It features a wealth of action and adventure in titles as diverse as Libba Bray’s 2010 Printz Award winner Going Bovine; Cohn and Levithan’s Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares; the aforementioned Roland Smith’s Peak, which was a 2008 Best Book for Young Adults and a 2008 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers; and 2006 Printz Honor recipient I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. There’s also a ton of fantasy, a sprinkling of historical fiction, and even some contemporary fiction — which is exactly my point. Hyphenated-adventure stories — dystopian tales, fantasy and sci-fi adventures, historical adventure, and the always-popular survival narrative (which comes in both fiction and nonfiction versions) are everywhere. Some of the upcoming titles that jumped out at me include:

  • The near-future fantasy adventure Elemental by Antony John (November 2012), which tells the story of Thomas, the only child on his remote colony born without power over one of the elements. Always the outcast, Thomas finds himself caught between plagues and pirates, charged with not only surviving, but with rescuing the kidnapped Guardians, the mysterious group whose dangerous secrets will prove more treacherous than Thomas can imagine.
  • Pulse by Patrick Carman (February 2013) is set in the year 2051, a time where some teens have the power to move things with their minds. Classmates Faith and Dylan both have the gift, and they use it to battle a group of deadly telekinetic masters and save the world.
  • Matt de la Pena’s The Living (2013) tells the harrowing tale of three teens stranded on a deserted island off the coast of California after a wildly destructive earthquake. Forced to survive in a ghost town, the group searches for a way back home while struggling against the unexpected dangers the island holds.
  • 2010 Morris Award Winner Blythe Woolston’s Black Helicopters is about a girl raised to be a weapon, a girl on a mission to kill and/or be killed.

There are also about a million sequels coming out next year that could definitely be called “adventure.”

  • Take, for example, the sequel to 2012’s Dark Eyes, Tiger: A Dark Eyes Novel by William Richter (March 2013), which continues the story of Wally, the unusually skilled daughter of a Russian assassin. The slightly illegal tactics she uses to locate missing people are put to good use when she must go up against her sadistic father once again, this time in order to find her a fugitive who also happens to be her brother.
  • Or how about Shadow on the Sun (March 2013), David Macinnis Gill’s sequel to Black Hole Sun (2011) and Invisible Sun (2012), which is the final adventure of Durango and Vienne, Regulator Mercenary Soldiers on a postapocalyptic Mars whose job it is to do the dirty work no one else wants to do.
  • Truancy City by Isamu Fukui is the sequel to Truancy and Truancy Origins and concludes the story of warring Truants and Educators, who face destruction if they can’t work together.
  • Prodigy is Marie Lu’s follow-up to Legend (recently named a Teens’ Top Ten pick), which finds June on the run, the Republic’s most wanted traitor.

Actually, it seems like only what I think of as straight-up adventure novels are kind of in short supply these days, though you can find them if you look hard enough.

  • For example, Pam Withers’s First Descent (February 2013) offers what sounds like a classic adventure tale: Rex sets out to traverse the unconquered El Furioso, a wild South American river that no one has ever kayaked successfully. He and his guide, Myriam, soon find themselves in desperate circumstances that stem, not from the river, but from clashing paramilitary groups that surround them.
  • Another promising (since I haven’t read it yet) prospect features half-American, half-Congolese Sophie, heroine of the recently released Endangered by Eliot Schrefer, who finds herself trapped in the Democratic Republic of Congo after civil war erupts. With only young Otto, an abused bonobo from a rescue sanctuary, for company, Sophie struggles to survive in a land full of natural dangers and warring revolutionaries.

It’s clear that fill-in-the-blank adventure fiction — however you define it — is hot stuff, as evidenced by the success of numerous books and movies like The Hunger Games trilogy, The Maze Runner series, and Moira Young’s Blood Red Road (first in the Dustlands series), which has been optioned by director Ridley Scott. Besides, with a term as all-encompassing as “adventure,” a label that can be applied to a good portion of forthcoming titles across the genre spectrum, this Next Big Thing can’t fail. I’m excited, but I can’t help hoping that straight-up, edge-of-your-seat, capital A “Action Adventure” (especially if it features a female protagonist!) without the dystopian, fantasy, or sfnal trappings becomes a Next Big Thing in its own right.

— Julie Bartel, currently re-reading Nightrise by Anthony Horowitz and waiting impatiently for her copy of Oblivion (March 2013) to be delivered from the UK. Adventure waits for no one, after all…

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Julie Bartel

Julie is a writer and librarian living in Salt Lake City, UT.