I began the first full day at the 2014 Young Adult Literature Symposium with a session that perfectly suited this year’s “Keeping It Real” theme. Titled “YA Realness: What Makes ‘Contemporary Realism’ Feel True To Readers?” this Saturday morning session featured a self-moderated panel of established authors discussing a range of topics related to contemporary realistic fiction for young adults, including the genre’s authenticity, controversial topics, writing craft, and continued appeal to teens.
In many cases, a panel without a formal moderator could go horribly wrong, but the excellent crew of authors in this particular session instead created a casual and very thoughtful conversation about many aspects of contemporary realism. Matt de la Pena, Coe Booth, Sara Zarr, Sara Ryan, and Jo Knowles are all authors well-known for their varied, popular, and critically acclaimed works of contemporary realistic fiction written for and about young adults.
Sara Zarr started the session off by getting right to the most basic but unavoidable question: “How do you define ‘contemporary realism?” She broke the ice by offering her own, excellent definition of the genre as a story that takes place more or less in the present in which nothing happens that could not feasibly happen in our world and nothing occurs that might violate the space-time continuum. The other panelists chimed in, mentioning their emphases on honesty, emotional truth, and grittiness. Matt de la Pena shared his usual response to questions concerning his preference for realistic fiction over fantasy: “I am so infatuated with the real world that I don’t go there [to supernatural creatures, etc.] creatively….you all have great stories in your lives, you just think they’re normal.” Continue reading YA Lit Symposium: YA Realness – What Makes Contemporary Realism Feel True to Readers?
I did not begin my career as an older sister on a very positive note. In fact, it is difficult to find an video of my brother’s infant years without having the footage interrupted by a bouncing three-year-old who springs into the frame to sing out some variation of “Look at me!”
Happily, despite some rough patches, my relationship with my brother is one of the most stable and significant aspects of my life. He’s my friend, fellow sci-fi television & folk music fan, joint owner of favorite childhood books, cooking idol, and one of my all around favorite people on the planet. Consequently, I have a soft spot for stories featuring siblings. Just as there are many different kinds of families and individuals, so too are there many different kinds of sibling relationships and all are complex & fascinating.
Since his beloved big brother T.J. was killed in action in Iraq, Matt has been moving through his quickly collapsing life in a daze. Between failing classes, getting in fights at school, and trying to avoid his dad’s anger and disappointment, Matt feels like his purpose disappeared with T.J. But when his brother’s personal effects are finally delivered, Matt is convinced that he might finally be able to understand T.J.’s death. But T.J.’s possessions contain certain shocking revelations that force Matt to wonder how well he really knew his brother.
It isn’t uncommon for younger siblings to believe that their elder sisters are extraordinary, but Chloe knows she’s far from the only person to recognize that her sister Ruby’s someone special. Ruby is the girl that everyone longs to touch–the girl everyone wants to be. When Ruby wants something to happen, it does. She’s untamable, unpredictable, and almost unbelievable. But after a night out with Ruby & her friends went horribly wrong, Chloe was sent away. Now, two years later, they’re reunited–but Chloe can’t help wondering exactly how far Ruby was willing to go to get her back. Continue reading We Are Family: Sibling Stories in YA Lit