The Rise and Fall of YA Lit Trends: Timing is Everything
In 2008, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight hit the big time with the release of movie version. Millions flocked to the theaters, then to bookstores and libraries to finish Stephenie Meyers’ saga. Suddenly, everywhere we looked, there were vampires: scary, sexy, sparkly, fangs… you could take your pick. More books hit the shelves (or were discovered) like PC Cast’s House of Night series, Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy, and Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series. Not to mention the many TV shows cropping up everywhere, such as HBO’s True Blood and CW’s Vampire Diaries. It was vampire frenzy. Then the inevitable backlash hit—hard. Folks had clearly hit a saturation point with vampires (particularly Twilight.) It became cool to loudly proclaim ones’ hatred of Twilight—and all things vampire. Twilight spoofs were being produced, such as Nightlight: a Parody by the Harvard Lampoon and the Vampires Suck movie.
Fast forward to 2013 when Holly Black (author of both children’s and young adult gold like The Spiderwick Chronicles and the overlooked but spectacular Curse Workers trilogy) offers The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. This book has everything a lover of gothic reads could want: creepy cool cover art, a terrifying opening scene, scary and dangerously hot romance, flawed narrator, realistic intriguing side characters, and a vividly described falling apart Las Vegas-like town under constant camera surveillance (showing another frightening side of reality TV like that depicted in the Hunger Games trilogy.) In fact, in this librarian’s humble opinion, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown has nary a flaw to be found—except that it’s about vampires. As Karyn Silverman of the Someday My Printz Will Come blog writes, “…I think the anti-vampire bias runs so deep in most librarians these days that Coldtown risks a cold shoulder as a result.” I fear Silverman might be correct in her assessment, as I haven’t heard much buzz from other readers about Coldtown—unless of course, I’m the one who brought it up (which I do, often and loudly). On a bright note, Coldtown’s appearance on YALSA’s 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults list offers hope for this overlooked gem.
Rewind to 1997 (and 1999) when Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the spinoff show Angel first aired respectively. It would be false to say that these two shows weren’t and aren’t popular—they are and were. Both Buffy and Angel had and maintain a loyal following from those who watched it. Viewers were true and loyal cheerleaders for the show—but were not pervasive. In 1997, I watched Buffy and was distinctly in the minority amongst my peers, who assumed it was lame and would not give the show a chance. “Vampires- really?” (insert eye roll). I bet those naysayers flocked to Twilight nearly a decade later. In fact, Buffy was nearly canceled in the fifth season when it was switched from the CW network to UPN. TV Guide listed the top 25 Cult Shows of All Time with Buffy hitting the list at # 3. This to me sums up the popularity of most things vampire before and after Twilight—destined for a small but loyal “cult” fandom. It should be mentioned that other shows on that list fall into a similar category—loved by the few, unrecognized by the masses (Veronica Mars, Firefly, Freaks and Geeks, and Strangers with Candy).
On the heels of the vampire craze came the angels. Not, not Angel (as in Buffy’s true love)—but actual winged heavenly angels. In 2009, Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush (a 2010 Teen’s Top Ten winner) and Lauren Kate’s Fallen (a 2011 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults pick) hit the stands running. Readers gobbled them up and waited impatiently for the sequels. Angels, clearly had won out over pixies, trolls, and fairies (and faeries) and were the next vampires. 2010 brought us Alexandra Adornetto’s Halo and 2011 Unearthly by Cynthia Hand (both series openers).
Books that involved angels were gaining popularity including Cassandra Clare (who got her start in fan fiction) with her first “Mortal Instruments” title City of Bones (published in 2007, voted into the Teens’ Top Ten in 2008). Menfolk began sporting shirts adorned with wings—actual wings. And yet again, I maintain that the best of the bunch came late to the game in 2012: Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone (a 2012 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults selection) and the less noticed Susan Ee’s Angelfall.
The recently released Divergent movie is another example of the flaw of timing. Katie Shanahan Yu writes of this phenomenon in her recent page-to-screen movie review here on The Hub. Divergent was a stand-up movie, yet is not getting the love it deserves from film critics. Dystopia overload is most likely the culprit. The masses flock to a trend and quickly tire. It seems that the higher the fan following, the harder the fall from grace.
Shouldn’t we judge each work on its individual merit? Are there other examples of this phenomenon? Are you tired of vampires, angels, and dystopia to the point where you wouldn’t give a new book a chance?
-Tara Kehoe, currently reading Noggin by John Corey Whaley