Three’s a Crowd? The Future of Trilogies in YA Literature
The ubiquity of trilogies (particularly if they are dystopian or otherwise fantastical) in young adult literature has been a topic of frequent discussion in the past few years. And for good reason. It seems like just yesterday I read the first in the epic The Hunger Divergent Mortal Legends trilogy. All joking aside, these books have all sold countless copies, sparked film adaptions (or rumored films) and had an incredible amount of crossover appeal. And I want to make it clear that I don’t consider myself immune to the hype surrounding dystopian trilogies, or trilogies in general. I was there opening weekend for Divergent and Catching Fire just like you, and I love those worlds.
But I also suspect that some of us are burnt out. It’s become commonplace to read a YA novel cover to cover with the understanding that all of this will be explained in the second or third installment. I’d argue that while most novels are judged like films for their ability to stand alone as a piece of media, trilogies work more like watching a miniseries. You know there’s more coming later, so it’s okay if you miss something the first time around. I’m not sure why three is the exact magic number, either. I think we can speculate–personally, I think one sequel is often one too few but by the fourth book one starts to wonder if the author gets paid by the word. Or perhaps there’s an inherent literary quality about trilogies that a full series lacks. The Lord of the Rings does tend to have a more erudite quality than, say, the Fear Street Saga. (Which, by the way, I love. You should all re-read the Fear Street Books. Trust me on this.)
While I don’t have the answers, I’m very interested in thinking about whether trilogies are here to stay, or whether they have plateaued and slowly losing popularity. A semi-recent Publishers Weekly article that discusses general trends in YA asserts very plainly that there is a current anti-trilogy backlash in the market (whether it’s from readers, publishers, or both is debatable). Apparently agents are particularly excited when stand-alone novels hold the promise of another unrelated or companion novel–not a sequel, but a way to get a sense of an author’s voice. I know I read Rainbow Rowell’s 2014 Printz Honor book Eleanor and Park and 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults selection Fangirl within a few months of one another, and this experience felt just as gratifying as reading a series– without the irritation at knowing you’ll just have to wait for the next one.
On the other hand, trilogies, like television, mean we don’t have to say goodbye to beloved characters or worlds just yet. I know a lot of people would argue that saying goodbye to these words is part of the reading experience, that there is a danger in relying on sequels and trilogies. And part of me agrees with this camp too– a good trilogy is a good trilogy, but not all trilogies are good trilogies, you know? I think it makes a difference if the author has actively planned sequels or if they come as a surprise after the success of the first.
We don’t know, exactly, whether trilogies are a trend that are probably on their way out, or whether Publishers Weekly was overly zealous in its predictions. One thing we do know is that trilogy mania has, in a lot of ways, put YA literature on the map for teens and adults alike, and I think that’s something to celebrate.
What do you think, readers? Are you sick of trilogies? Do you think they’re here to stay? Sound off in the comments below!
-Chelsea Condren, currently reading She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not by Julie Anne Peters