Earlier this year, journalist David Kushner published his eloquent memoir, Alligator Candy. At the core of his story is a terrible crime. When Kushner was just four-years-old, he watched his older brother, Jon, ride away on his bicycle, never to return. Jon’s mutilated body was found later. At first, Kushner is a confused small boy missing his brother, fearing that he could have prevented the crime had he not requested candy from the store. Then, as a thirteen-year-old boy, he secretly begins reading accounts from the newspapers on microfilm at the library. There were details that he couldn’t have even imagined as a four-year-old boy.
After publishing several books and articles as an adult, Kushner was ready to write about Jon’s disappearance and murder. As part of his research, he received access to police records. He discovers details that are so horrific that he wonders how his family survived. Kushner also realizes that while Jon’s disappearance and murder devastated his family, the entire community was deeply affected by the violence of the crime.
As a librarian, I love providing reader’s advisory help to teens with all different interests and preferences. However, I must admit that I especially love helping a fellow fantasy fan discover a new title or author. And as many of our library’s most devoted high school readers remain especially loyal to this genre, I have the opportunity to do this on a regular basis. These voracious readers are constantly looking for new books and they’ve often exhausted the young adult offerings of the moment. And that’s where having a healthy collection of fantasy published for adult fiction market comes in!
The trend of historical fantasy continues to grow in both young adult and adult fiction. These first two titles would be excellent recommendations for teens who favor fantasy and historical fiction or Jane Austen novels.
As the Napoleonic Wars rage abroad, Britain struggles at home as the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers grows increasingly dissatisfied with the newly elected Sorcerer Royal, Zacharias Wythe. Although he was raised and trained by his predecessor Sir Stephen, Zacharias’ dark skin and past as a slave have always barred him from gaining true acceptance in society and the continued magical draught provides the perfect excuse for the Society to oust him. But when Zacharias journeys north to inspect the border with Fairyland, he meets Prunella Gentleman, an orphan whose remarkable magical ability might be wasted in a world where women are not permitted to practice magic. Together, Zacharias and Prunella set out on a quest that will alter the state of sorcery in Britain irrevocably.
Shades of Milk & Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
In another magical alternative version of Regency England, gentlewoman Jane Ellsworth and her sister Melody practice delicate glamour magic and circulate through polite society, all for the purpose of making a good marriage. But while Melody’s beauty attracts suitors easily, Jane is 28 years old, unmarried, and possibly more talented at glamour than a lady should be. The arrivals of the wealthy young Mr. Dunkirk and the gruff glamourist Mr. Vincent to the neighborhood set into a series of unforeseen events that will push Jane’s talents and strength to new limits. The Glamourist Histories series continues in several more novels.
If your readers would prefer a gritty steampunk setting to a Regency drawing room, this next title might be the perfect pick–especially if they like a good murder mystery!
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear (2016 Alex Award nominee)
In Rapid City, airships buzz through the air as hopeful miners travel through on their way to Alaskan gold fields and steam-powered robots work the waterfront. And at Madame Damnable’s high quality bordello, a young prostitute named Karen Memery is just trying to make her way through this unforgiving world. Then one night, a pair of injured and abused young women end up on their doorstep, on the run from brutal gangster and brothel owner Peter Bantle. In the days that follow, Karen and the other girls at Madame Damnable’s become involved in horrific murder mystery, tracking down a serial killer slaughtering prostitutes around the city.
At first, there is a sense of, “what?…wait!” Something a character says, perhaps, that contradicts the words of the narrator. Maybe you suddenly realize that the narrator has never actually been in the green bedroom, or that she doesn’t speak unless her husband is there. Out of loyalty or expediency, we readers tend to accept our narrator’s version of events. But sometimes the author reveals hints that the narrator’s perspective may be a little…off. Once the suspicion is planted, the story becomes a wild thing, just as likely to conjure psychic terror as it is to end in benign misunderstanding. Here are three adult books with unreliable narrator that will appeal to teen readers.
One of the most popular books of 2015 was Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train. What begins as a tale about a lonely woman who is mesmerized by young lovers seen daily as she passes by on her commuter train grows into an impossible series of coincidences and misunderstandings. Every character in the book is suspect. Readers come to realize that at least one person is lying, at least one person is delusional, and at least a couple of characters are dangerously violent. Hawkins deftly twists the readers’ loyalties, alternating between three unreliable narrators.
I enjoy cozy mysteries. The past two years I’ve created posts with some of my favorites—see the round up from 2013 and my list from 2014. Cozies are perfect for teens as most of the violence happens off page. Cozies center around relationships: friends, family, romantic interests, and of course suspects. Many take place in a small town or close-knit communities where everyone knows everyone and their business. Plus most cozies are part of series, so once a year you get to hang out with old friends.
Books that make your mouth water: Final Sentence by Daryl Wood Gerber
Jenna Hart comes home to launch a new business with her aunt – a cookbook store and cafe. She asks her old roommate and celebrity chef to appear for the grand opening of the store. Unfortunately, her friend is murdered and Jenna is the prime suspect. In order to clear her name, Jenna starts digging around for the truth.
Meet Your Baker by Ellie Alexander
With her marriage on the rocks, Juliet Capshaw returns home to the family bakery, hoping the trip home will help her answer questions in her personal life. When a community member is killed in the bakery, Juliet teams up with her old high school boyfriend to help catch a killer.
Criminal Confections by Colette London
Hayden Mundy Moore is a chocolate expert. Companies hire her to develop new products and create the best chocolates for their customers. While at a chocolate retreat, her friend ODs on a secret ingredient in a new chocolate line. Her death is ruled an accident, but Hayden isn’t convinced. She pokes around until she realizes that she may have been the target of the attack and not her friend. Hayden vows to uncover the truth as a last gift for her friend.
The announcement of Netflix’s John Stamos-produced “Fuller House,” a spinoff or sequel series to the 1980s/1990s classic family sitcom, is one of many similar such announcements in the TV world these days. “The X-Files” will be back for a few weeks next January, and there are rumors of a second/fifth season of “Arrested Development” arriving to Netflix sometime soon. And let’s not forget the long-awaited “Veronica Mars” movie last year, which was entirely made up of winks and nudges to the series’ patient fans.
The literary world is following suit. In 2011, Francine Pascal dusted off her pen and caught us all up on the happenings in Sweet Valley, California, with a look at the famous blonde twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield ten years after graduation. Published under an adult imprint, Sweet Valley Confidential was a nostalgic gift to the 20-, 30-, and even 40-something original fans of the series. Ann Brashares gifted her now-adult Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2002 Best Books for Young Adults, 2009 Popular Paperbacks) readers with Sisterhood Everlasting in 2011 as well. And Meg Cabot will be following suit with a completion of her Princess Diaries (2001 Best Books for Young Adults, 2001 Quick Picks) series for adults, titled Royal Wedding.
But if all of these are gifts for former teens, what about current and future ones? Brashares presented 3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows, about a younger generation of friends facing a summer separation, but it didn’t quite catch on. Is it possible to reignite a successful YA series with a younger version? Does it even make sense to think that a beloved teen character would interest a younger reader who doesn’t know the inside jokes? Or is it better to go adult? Should you just take minor characters and make them major? Does any of it work?
Definition and Background
I recently read The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton (2015 Morris Award Finalist), after having had the ARC on my shelf for months (I’m sorry!) and being begged to by a coworker and about five students. I was amazed by the beautiful writing and loved the story. It also got me thinking a lot about family sagas and how they are such a big part of literature in general, but they don’t seem to appear much in YA. That said, anything that spans generations, like Ava Lavender, should feature and engage adults and teens alike.
Another interesting thing about these stories is that family sagas tend to center around women or follow a woman’s line in a family, when we all know that in general, Serious Literature is about (white) men. And yet books like The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende or Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman get critical acclaim anyway. That is seriously feminist.
Did I mention that these books are also subversive when it comes to how they trick everyone into reading magical realism without complaining that they’re reading genre fiction? Genius, I tell you.
This is more of a subgenre than a genre, and this guide is something that could use fleshing out. Reading Ava Lavender whetted my appetite for stories of matriarchal families, but I can’t say that I’ve found many yet. That said, there are many adult authors who may satisfy teens, as well as some stories of young women going off on their own magical realism adventure, possibly to start the first branch of a matriarchal family tree.
As mentioned, these stories tend to employ magic realism elements, and they most commonly come out of traditions that support these notions as par for the course, such as folklore and history from Latin America, West Africa, and the American South. However, that’s not always true, as Ava Lavender itself shows. Often there is a sort of quest or journey involved. Rather than love stories, these tend to be about love lost or love cursed, with an element of destiny attached to that. Family, either born or created, is what ties characters together. Mother-daughter, grandmother-granddaughter, and sister relationships are key. There are some authors who accomplish this type of storytelling through book series, and I’ve noted a few below (you could even count Tamora Pierce’s entire Tortall universe as a big family epic), but in general, I think it’s most interesting when all of these relationships between family members and generations happen in one novel.
I love sharing, discussing, and contemplating fantasy fiction–especially with fellow fans and readers. Happily, opportunities for such conversations happen on an almost daily basis for me. Many of the most voracious readers among my students are fantasy fans; even as their tastes expand, these readers return again and again to this genre. So where’s an ardent fantasy reader to turn when she exhausts her local library’s supply of young adult fantasy? One solution is to expand the search area–into the world of adult fantasy fiction.
For some, the easiest entry into a new area of fiction is through an author. For example, Neil Gaiman writes highly imaginative fiction imbued with dark beauty and twisted humor; his adult fiction is highly popular with teens at my library. Fans of unusual fairytale retellings might start with delightful Stardust (2000 Alex Award) while urban and offbeat high fantasy readers should investigate American Gods or Neverwhere. And frankly, all fantasy readers should read his most recent release, the enchanting The Ocean At The End of The Lane.
Cozy mysteries are popular reads, dealing with murder in a not too graphic manner. Many center around a theme: food, fashion, crafting, or owning a shop. Most of the cozies come in a series; here are some that might appeal to teens.
If they like fashion…
Cloche and Dagger by Jenn McKinlay. After becoming an internet sensation, for the wrong reasons, Scarlett flees to England to help her cousin run their hat shop. Only her cousin isn’t there to greet her and an important client turns up dead. With Mim missing in action, Scarlett attempts to run the shop and uncover a murderer.
Shoe Done It by Grace Carroll. Rita works at an upscale fashion boutique. When a client steals a very important pair of stilettos, Rita looks for them, only to discover the thief has been murdered. Who ever killed her client has stolen the shoes. Rita keeps her eyes peeled for the stilettos and the murderer.
Button Holed by Kylie Logan. Josie’s opened her own button shop, becoming a big name in the button world. Her name becomes the talk of the town when a famous Hollywood actress comes to her shop for buttons for her wedding dress. When she’s discovered murdered with a button by the body as the only clue, Josie needs to uncover the truth.
Veiled Deception by Annette Blair. Maddie returns home for her sister’s wedding. Unfortunately another woman refuses to believe the groom is off the market. When she ends up strangled with the wedding veil, Maddie must clear her sister’s name.
Dystopian fiction. It’s everywhere — filling the local bookstore’s window displays, crowding the public library shelves, and invading Hollywood with an onslaught of recent novel-to-film adaptations. And as an avid reader and recommender of young adult literature, I’ve noticed a few distinct reactions to this particular trend among my fellow YA fiction fans. I like to divide these responses into three categories:
Resource Exhaustion: “I’ve read everything from The Hunger Games to Wither and the new Veronica Roth book isn’t out yet. What do I read now?!”
Rebellion: “I’ve never found dystopian stories interesting, and popular trends are not going to change my mind!”
Disillusionment: “I like dystopian fiction but I feel like it’s getting a bit repetitive. I mean, once you’ve read a few, haven’t you read them all?”
Now, I’ve experienced all of these reactions over the last couple years, but luckily dystopian fiction hasn’t just been growing in the world of young adult lit. There have been exciting dystopian tales appearing on adult fiction shelves that are as thrilling and thought-provoking as their young adult counterparts. So whether readers are suffering from futuristic fiction fatigue or are desperate for a fresh fix of dystopian adventure, one of these titles is sure to please.
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan (2012 Amelia Bloomer List)
Fans of reimagined classics or imaginative explorations of religion, sexuality, and gender should pick up this Scarlet Letter-inspired dystopian tale. The story focuses on Hannah Payne, a former obedient daughter and church member who has been found guilty of abortion in a future America where the lines between church and state have all but disappeared. She has been sentenced to sixteen years as a Red, her skin biologically dyed bright scarlet, marking her a convicted murderer in the eyes of the public. Rejected by her family and thrown back into a hostile society, Hannah wrestles with her past choices and struggles to survive in her frightening new reality. Exploring the same themes charted by Hawthorne through the powerful story of one woman’s personal awakening, Jordan crafts an exciting and haunting vision of the future.
Every dystopian tale shares a few traits: the perfect-yet-horribly-imperfect society, the futuristic setting, and a rebellion against it all. Dystopian fiction written for teens and dystopian fiction written for adults both have those key elements, but otherwise, their differing audiences make sure that most other important aspects are not alike.
Presentation and backstory
Most noticeably, adult and young adult dystopias differ in their presentation. Adult dystopias are often more subtle with their set-up of the dystopias themselves. For instance, in The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, the main character weaves current happenings in the story with memories of the time before the dystopia, though her memories are revealed out of order chronologically. This allows the reader to understand what happened to create her fundamentalist, patriarchal Christian society, but not all at once. The makeup of the society itself becomes totally clear only towards the end, a puzzle forming an image piece by piece. Adult dystopias assume a more mature reader, and often take this approach because an adult should be able to understand it.
Young adult dystopias are much more straightforward.