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27 October 2011 @ 03:01 pm
It's Not THAT Dark Out There  
Over the weekend I participated in a wonderful panel discussion at Books by the Banks here in Cincinnati. Joining me were Kristina McBride (THE TENSION OF OPPOSITES), Julia Karr (XVI) and Katrina Kittle (REASONS TO BE HAPPY). The topic: is today's teen and tween fiction too dark?

I know this topic has been talked to death lately, ever since the Wall Street Journal ran an article lamenting the huge amount of paranormal, dystopian and tough-issue books on the shelves these days. Our discussion was thoughtful and layered and included some wonderful input from some of the teens in the audience, and we landed where most authors and readers land whenever this topic comes up: that these books can play an important role in sparking discourse, that it's dangerous to tar entire genres with one brush, that it's up to readers and their parents to decide what's appropriate for them. I don't want to re-hash all of that here. What I do want to do is share some perspective from an author who doesn't write quote/unquote dark books.

Basically, if you're not in the mood for a darker topic or you don't think your child is ready, there are TONS of books out there that offer a lighter read. It may take some digging - I understand it can be overwhelming when big bookstores plaster their endcaps and displays with titles about dead teens, demons, violent futuristic societies, etc., (plus some lighter books aren't even making it to big-box bookstores right now). That's where the market is, still, and I want to go on the record as saying I've enjoyed several books on "darker" topics lately. But a good bookseller or librarian should be able to direct you to books that deal with more realistic settings and take a lighter tone. And by lighter, I don't necessarily mean froofy, cutesy or superficial. A lot of books out there deal with heavy topics like death or rivalry (like my book!) and even teen pregnancy, but with a less-gritty point of view.

Before last weekend's panel, I asked some fellow authors for recommendations for "lighter" YA books. I read these off at the end of the discussion, and I thought I'd share them here. This list doesn't come close to being exhaustive - please add your own titles in comments. I may find some new books for my TBR pile!

RIVAL by Sara Bennett Wealer (got to toot my own horn here)
ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins
SEAN GRISWOLD'S HEAD by Lindsey Leavitt
GEEK GIRLS' GUIDE TO CHEERLEADING by Darcy Vance and Charity Tahmeseb
YOU WISH and PRADA & PREJUDICE by Mandy Hubbard
WHERE I BELONG by Gwendolyn Heasley
E. Lockhart's Ruby Oliver books
DONUT DAYS by Lara Zielin (I'm reading her THE IMPLOSION OF AGGIE WINCHESTER right now, and even though it deals with a goth girl and teen pregnancy, I wouldn't classify it as a "dark" book.
PROM & PREJUDICE by Elizabeth Eulberg
COFFEEHOUSE ANGEL by Suzanne Selfors
Ally Carter's GALLAGHER GIRLS books
SUITE SCARLETT and the BLUE ENVELOPE books by Maureen Johnson
deenamldeenaml on October 26th, 2011 07:59 pm (UTC)
GREAT list!!! I need some of the less dark just to temper with the dark. Neither is good or bad, obviously, but sometimes I need to laugh on the exercise bike in the morning, or at least smile, instead of always gasping. Ha! :)
cyn2writecyn2write on October 27th, 2011 11:34 am (UTC)
That is a great list! I have to say that while Fairy Tale was light (in my mind), I quickly realized that people wanted it to be dark, or at least expected it, because of the cover. And my books have been trending darker and darker. My latest one is... really bleak. And considering I love light YA, it's really strange. But knowing that we couldn't sell Getting Caught, our light contemporary, traditionally, I am reluctant to try writing light again (at least for now).

sbennettwealersbennettwealer on October 27th, 2011 01:47 pm (UTC)
Yeah, selling lighter contemporary is tough these days - I know from experience and am considering taking some of my books that haven't sold, but that I know are good, and doing what you did with GETTING CAUGHT. It's brutal out there. The thing is, bookstores/publishers say these titles don't sell, but then they don't publish/stock them, so how CAN they sell? It's maddening.