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Tag: contemporary fiction

Reality Scoop: Promoting Mental Wellness with YA Literature

There are no shortages of books for young adults that tackle mental illness; The Hub has focused on books for Mental Health Awareness Month and also written about the trend of suicide and depression in Young Adult literature in just the last year. But today for Reality Scoop, we’re focusing on characters in YA novels who develop coping mechanisms for dealing with depression and anxiety throughout the course of the story.

YALSA realistic fiction column

Fiction According to National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), about 20% of teens suffer from mental health issues and nearly 30% have depression before adulthood.  The impact on teens is more than just statistics, it’s the feelings and the emotions that they deal with that hurt the most.  Mental health problems just make things so much harder for teens.  It makes their home life, school and socializing much more difficult than it should be.  

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Reality Scoop: Holiday Stress Relief

The holiday season is upon us and it can be a very stressful time for many teens and their families.  Some families may have financial problems and the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping can heighten teens stress to an uncomfortable level.  Or they may have divorced parents and have split holiday plans. Worrying about where they will spend the holidays can actually put quite a strain on teens.12-28-09 ornaments148.jpg

It’s important to understand the amount of stress that teens are under during the holidays.  The majority of their usual stress centers around social issues like peer pressure, bullying and homework, and then there’s the money issues that arise when parents and caregivers don’t have enough to get through the holidays.  A recent survey done by the American Psychological Association showed that as many as 45% of teens reported that thy were under a lot of stress during the holidays.  Unfortunately, less than 1/3 of the parents did not even notice that their teens felt stressed.  Sadly, their stress does affect the quality of their lives as it was noted that 42% of teens complained of headaches, 49% mentioned difficulty sleeping, and 39% expressed that they have issues with eating properly.

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Reality Scoop: Domestic Violence in YA Fiction

I love realistic fiction!

It’s true, my taste in reading YA literature seems to bounce around a lot from fantasy to horror to science fiction, but somehow I always end up back with realistic fiction. I think that realistic fiction is a very important genre for teens to have access to. Many of the topics that are covered in these books are serious and affect teens their daily lives. I have worked with teens in a community where poverty is high and the stress is even higher and have seen how reading realistic fiction can make a difference in their lives.

I also think it’s important to be able to recommend realistic fiction books to teens so they can experience real life situations that are fictional as sort of an experimental look-see so to speak. I know for me, when I read realistic fiction it makes me feel like I am going through the experiences with the characters. When teens read realistic fiction they might go through the highs and lows, the good and the bad, while sampling small glimpses of the deeper and darker experiences that tend to stay with us throughout most of our lives. This is a safer way of experiencing without really having to bear the drama or angst themselves. It’s like trying something on, but then putting it back on the shelf when you are done. Likewise, teens who have had troubling experience can see that they are not alone, and teens who haven’t dealt with these issues can develop empathy for those who have.

reality scoop

Many topics come to my mind regarding realistic fiction, so each month I will recommend a list of books that explore the common themes that reflect life changing events for teens. Realistic fiction can also melt over into mysteries, thrillers, adventures, yet they always stay rooted in reality.

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness (DVAM), this month’s focus will be on various ranges of violent behavior that can occur between teens and their family members or partners. Abusive behavior can happen in all types of families and is present in all cultures and economic classes.

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Gone Camping: Novels Set At Summer Camp

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Summer camp.  For many teens, those two words evoke all sorts of powerful memories and emotions.  As someone who attended and later worked at a few different kinds of summer camps, I too associate summertime with that special otherworld of camp life.  Whether it’s an academic summer program on an unfamiliar college campus, an wilderness adventure in the woods, or some other uniquely themed summer-only community experience, camp life often seems to be an escape from teens’ everyday lives.

Camp can be the rare place where you suddenly fit in and find others who share your passions.  Camp can be a dependable community where you feel the freedom to be a different–and perhaps more authentic–version of yourself.  Camp can also be the time and place when you discover new interests or new aspects of your identity.  Like all tightly knit and highly organized communities, camp can also be a place that reinforces certain expectations or ideals, making it a trap rather than an escape.  In all cases, summer camp also seems to be one of the best settings for diverse and strong coming of age tales.  Just check out a few of the fabulous young adult novels set at summer camp!

the summer i wasn't meThe Summer I Wasn’t Me – Jessica Verdi

Lexi will do almost anything to maintain her relationship with her mother, especially since her dad’s recent death.  But when she figures out that Lexi’s in love with a girl, her mom plunges even deeper into depression and anxiety.  Desperate to preserve her family, Lexi agrees to attend New Horizons, a Christian summer camp that promises to teach her how to fight off her SSA–same sex attraction. Lexi’s determined to change–but she wasn’t counting on meeting Carolyn.

Wildlife – Fiona Wood (2015 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults)

wildlifeSince her aunt used her as a model in local billboard, Sibylla’s fairly mediocre social life has started to shift in unexpected ways.  Suddenly, she’s not entirely sure what to expect from the upcoming wilderness term.  Handsome Ben kissed her at a party over the holidays but hasn’t said much since and her longtime best friend Holly seems intensely invested in Sib & Ben’s potential romance.  Meanwhile, new girl Lou simply wants to muddle through this strange first term without having to discuss her dead boyfriend or her still crushing grief.  But in this unfamiliar environment, relationships of all kinds undergo unforeseen transformations.

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The Hub Loves the ’90s

The Hub Loves the '90sHave you noticed that the 1990s seem to be popping up a lot recently in pop culture? YA lit is no exception to this and we here at the Hub have decided to take a closer look at the ’90s nostalgia that seems to be hitting us from every direction. Along with upcoming posts from Traci Glass and Katie Shanahan Yu, this is the first in a three-part series this month looking at this memorable decade’s persistent appearance and influence.

As someone who was a tween and teen in the 1990s, it does not really surprise me to see so much of this time period seeping into contemporary pop culture now. These years had a huge impact on my long-term interest in music, television, movies, and books. Now, many from my generation are at a point in our lives where we are not only creating the content found on television and in books, but we are also adults with some disposable income that we are willing to spend on these types of media.

Love Letters to the DeadTraci and Katie will be looking at examples of books set in or produced in the 1990s, but I have even noticed a good amount of references to this period appearing in contemporary pieces. For example, Ava Dellaira’s Love Letters to the Dead begins with a letter to Kurt Cobain, a grunge rock icon and tragic symbol of the decade. Soon after, a letter to actor River Phoenix appears; and while the majority of his films were made in the ’80s, his untimely death in 1993 was a memorable part of this time. This book is a contemporary story, but it had an undeniable nostalgia for pop culture of the ’90s. 

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Genre Guide: YA Contemporary Romance

Contemporary romance YA novels are realistic fiction that take place during (more-or-less) the time frame in which the book is being published that include a love story as a main focus of the plot. There are not any hard and fast rules regarding how close to publication year a story must be set in order to be contemporary, but it is a small window. As a result, it may be difficult for some of us to swallow, but a book published this year that takes place in 1999 would not fall into this category, but rather into the realm of historical fiction.

Contemporary romances usually include the full cycle of a romance, beginning with the meeting of the future couple. Occasionally characters will already know each other and rather than having an adorable or awkward meeting there will a trigger event that begins the change in feelings from platonic to romantic. Then, the relationship will be tested or stressed by some series of events. These events can range from simple misunderstandings that are blown out of proportion to serious matters or life and death. Eventually, the conflict is resolved and the characters are able to fully acknowledge their love, though this does not always result in a happily ever after.
When you hear the words “contemporary romance,” you may immediately picture pink covers with doodled hearts. Sure, some of these stories are adorably fluffy and I can often spot a YA contemporary romance from across the room based on its cover. Some, though, appear to focus more on the contemporary life aspect and may be more sarcastic, dry-witted, and/or out-right weird. The romance is definitely there, but it may not be the first thing that a reader thinks about. Still, others may have a heavy dose of trauma or life-threatening situations as part of the plot.

These stories may also include some other common themes in YA including sports, music, and LGBTQ characters. 

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Is This Just Fantasy?: Defying Genre!

Just Fantasy defying genreGenre is a funny thing.  While it’s often easy–and frankly helpful– to divide novels into their neatly labeled slots based on basic characteristics such as setting and plot.  However, stories–like human beings–resist being placed into boxes and novels that blur the lines between genres consistently bring something unique to the table.

Today I wanted to highlight recent titles that experiment with two genres often perceived as polar opposites: contemporary realistic and fantasy fiction.  Frequently, such titles are classified as magical realism.  This category is fascinating and tricky to define but generally, it includes novels set in a world like ours but with certain magical elements as a natural part of that world; magical realism usually does not include world-building or explanations of its magical elements.  For a larger overview of the genre and its place in young adult fiction, I recommend this excellent post by Kelly Jensen & Kimberly Francisco over at Stacked.  For further explorations, check out Hub bloggers Julie Bartel and Alegria Barclay’s posts in memory of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of the authors most often identified with magical realism.

While I’m not sure that all these titles fit the generally accepted definition of magical realism, they all use strategic fantastical elements to illuminate contemporary stories about young adults’ coming of age in a world like ours.  Each title defies common genre expectations and none fit comfortably into a single category.  Instead they bend, reject, and flirt with multiple genres to create something unusual and compelling.

afterworldsAfterworlds – Scott Westerfeld

In between final exams and college applications, Darcy Patel wrote a novel and sent it off to a publisher on a whim.  Now, she’s moving to New York City with an amazing book deal but without an apartment, friends, or any idea what’s waiting for her.  As Darcy navigates the thrilling and overwhelming new world of professional writing & publishing, she also attempts to ride the ecstatic highs and heart-crushing lows of falling in love for the first time.

Meanwhile, the protagonist  of her paranormal thriller, Lizzie Scofield, deals with the strange new abilities she’s gained since surviving a terrorist attack by playing dead and slipping temporarily into another reality known as the Afterworld.  Told in alternating chapters, Darcy and Lizzie’s stories intertwine as both young women venture into adulthood and face unfamiliar decisions.

This intriguing novel could be classified as contemporary fiction with an embedded paranormal thriller but I prefer to think of it as a form of metafiction; after all, it’s a story about a writer beginning to sort out her emerging identity by writing a story about a young woman doing the same–just with death gods and ghosts.

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Is This the Real Life?: Characters Haunted by the Death of a Friend

I’m on Twitter a lot and I often see a lot of discussion on what the next big trend will be for YA lit, or people talking about the latest dystopian/paranormal/fantasy/hot new topic, but I don’t often see a lot of talk for contemporary titles by “fringe” authors. I LOVE the contemporary genre and want to see it get more love! I decided I wanted to tackle these books in a new series about contemporary titles for The Hub called: “Is This the Real Life?” (because it pairs so well with Kelly Dickinson’s new series on fantasy: “Is This Just Fantasy?”). I’m going to try and do themes each month (and feel free to suggest a theme in the comments) that will highlight both new and old titles.

In Mexico (and other countries) today is the beginning of the holiday known as Dia de Muertos or Day of the Dead. It is a day when family and friends come together to pray for and to remember those who have died. With this in mind, my post this month is about teens that are “haunted” by the death of a friend or classmate.

13 Reasons Why

The most well-known of this type of book is the 2008 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers and Best Books for Young Adult title, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. This is the story of shy Clay Jensen and his emotional journey as he listens to tapes made by Hannah Baker, explaining all the reasons she killed herself. Clay is shocked by what he hears and why HE is included on this list. He learns that what may seem like harmless actions (or non-actions) to others actually had tragic repercussions.


Books Outside The Box: Realistic Fiction With A Bite

The wealth of paranormal YA books keeps growing. Angels, mermaids, werewolves, dragons and vampires are all great for escapism. But readers live in the real world, where it’s not Twilight and there are no Mortal Instruments.   Contemporary realistic YA fiction is girding its loins and tackling issues important to today’s teens head-on, from self-esteem to sexting, predators, eating disorders, and feeling like an outsider.


paintSasquatch in the Paint, published 2013 by Disney-Hyperion, may be loosely based on author Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s experiences growing up, but it is definitely not just another basketball book. This story for both middle grade and young adult readers is about Theo, an 8th grader who grew six inches over the summer and is now taller than all his friends and many of his teachers. He has been recruited by the basketball coach even though he has never played before. The coach expects him to help the team win its first game in years.

Theo is also a member of the school’s Science Club and preparing to help them win the “Aca-lympics,” a science trivia contest. He can’t split himself and do both. That leaves him forced to make a choice, one hampered by an unspoken fear: that he’s just not good enough for either role.

Here he was. Panicky. Gawky. His throat so dry it scratched when he swallowed.

If that’s not enough, his cousin, a musical genius with his own self-esteem issues, accuses him of stealing one of his songs. He needs to convince more than the mysterious girl called Rain that he is not a “Sasquatch.” He needs to prove it to himself.


The Next Big Thing: Contemporary/Realistic Fiction

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.

There is no “next big thing” in contemporary YA fiction.

Contemporary YA fiction has always been around.

It has always been the next big thing because it is the always-constant, the always-there, the always. It is the bread and butter of YA fiction because it is the essence of what the teenage experience is. It’s happy. It’s dark. It’s tough. It’s romantic. It’s mysterious.

Contemporary YA fiction is teen life.

Looking through this year’s Best Fiction for Young Adults nominations showcases these highs and lows of adolescence. There are stories of cancer survival and endurance and even non-survival in Jesse Andrews’s Me and Earl and The Dying Girl, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, and Morgan Matson’s Second Chance Summer. There’s the experience of breaking free from a religious cult in Joelle Anthony’s The Right & The Real and one girl’s struggle with not only self-harm but also a taboo relationship with her teacher in Ilsa J. Bick’s Drowning Instinct.