All month long, Ashley from Books From Bleh to Basically Amazing and Shanyn from Chicks Love Lit are hosting an epic event entitled Just Contemporary.
There are all kinds of goodies, from giveaways to reviews to guest posts and author interviews. Ashley is also doing a round-up of Contemporary reviews and features on other blogs each week, so get in touch with her if you post anything!
A Backwards Story has signed up to swap a guest post with another blogger on the web each week for the next five weeks.
Here is the first of five guest posts.
Today's guest post features Kathy from Kat Reads. Kat is a lot like me, so today's guest post swap worked out well. We both got into contemporary fiction much more recently and have always been greater fans of fantasy. And if you're interested in writing or future writers, watch out for the NaNo she's currently revising, MOON DANCE. It sounds beyond amazing and I know she's going to get a good book deal in the future!
Now, it's time to introduce her and see why she loves contemporary! If you want to see my thoughts on the subject, just shoot over to Kat Reads! (Direct link coming later...my post has to go live now!)
Why I Love Contemporary YA by Kathy from Kat Reads
I never imagined that writing this article would prove so difficult. It's true, I haven't been into contemporary that long. It's also true that my background is much stronger with paranormal and fantasy stories. Perhaps that is what has held me back: in order to express my appreciation of this genre I've had to compare it to others. In doing so, the extreme differences caused in bringing out the strengths of one genre highlight the weaknesses of another.
So before we get started, I want to say this. My article is about why I love contemporary YA. If I say things that are not flattering about other genres in order to illustrate this point, please be aware that I am not saying those genres and the books within them are lesser. Rather, they are different. And that is actually the key to the appeal of contemporary for me. The thing that started it all.
I wanted a change.
1. Many genres of fiction are about trying to escape, either by altering the world or by going to a new one. Contemporary has a unique position of being able to let a reader tackle an issue head on.
When we read about vampires, or elves or werewolves we are reading about things that (generally speaking) most people do not believe exist. The lack of reality serves as a buffer, a seatbelt, a net below the trapese. We are willing to go places and experience things with these characters that we likely wouldn't accept in real life because the fantastic elements protect us from having to examine the situation as being real.
Contemporary isn't about that. It's not that every girl who reads Anna and the French Kiss is going to get to go to school in Paris and meet her own Etienne St. Clair. But how many of us have had to adjust to going to a new school? Had a crush on someone who was already taken? Had to take our first steps out into the world on our own and been a little scared?
Yes, contemporary can have its own brand of "fantasy" in a way. It can be fun to imagine what it would be like to be a character when things are going great. Yet even in a more bright or "fluffy" contemporary like Anna and the French Kiss, there are things that are immediately relevant and relatable to most readers.
2. Issues that would generally be glossed over in other genres, such as friendships, loss, growth or family take on more value.
Continuing with my example of Anna and the French Kiss, there are basically two plots that are going on in the book. One is Anna's interest in St. Clair and the question of how and whether they will end up a couple. The second plot is Anna's adventures as she discovers Paris and becomes more confident and independant.
There is no one trying to take over the world. There is not a life threatening catastrophe that is threatening to end Anna's existance. The problems that she faces are real: helping a friend through a trying emotional situation where he might lose his mom, fighting with her best friend, having rumors spread about her by a girl who is hateful and jealous... You get the idea.
The reason that this is so important is that these issues actually matter in the book. They are not afterthoughts or filler material for when the "big bad" isn't causing mischief. Because contemporary focuses on the daily "quests" we undertake in life, they actually get to be center stage, which means that a book can take a lot more time and detail in examining them.
3. Romances in contemporary tend to be of a more healthy variety and advance at a more logical pace. When something is out of balance within contemporary, it is more likely to be that way for a reason. It's also more likely to carry consequences.
In Anna and the French Kiss it takes almost an entire school year for the major goal of the novel (Anna and Etienne getting together) to be completed. During that time the way that they feel about each other and the things that happen -- both to them and between them -- progress in a slow and natural way.
There is no immediate "OMG, I'm in love!". It actually takes time for Anna to go from observing and thinking Etienne is cute, to liking him, to thinking that she might be in love with him, etc. This allows the reader to get to know both characters and actually take part in / witness the feelings that are growing between them. In essence, it grants the opportunity to fall in love right alongside Anna. This makes her desire to be with Etienne feel more personal and makes the reader want her to get a happy ending with him all the more.
But not all romance in contemporary YA is fluffy. Take, for instance, Stolen by Lucy Christopher or Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma. These both deal with incredibly serious situations that are totally not desirable -- Stolkholm syndrome and incest, respectively -- and neither ends "happy" for the "couple". Yet at the same time, the authors are careful to focus on having the reader experience the situation and gain insight about the characters in question, as opposed to using their books as a way to get up on some type of personal soapbox.
When this is conpared to some of the romantic leads of fantasy and paranormal -- Edward (Twilight), Daniel (Fallen) and Patch (Hush, Hush) come to mind -- it leaves a very bold statement. Contemporary does not generally romanticize situations that are unhealthy. Instead, it explores them and has the reader engage them as what they actually are. And even love doesn't get a free pass here.
4. Contemporary allows me to relive teenage experiences through the characters I meet in books that I did not have myself.
Who were you as a teen? Or who are you, if that is more appropriate? (I'm 29, so bare with me.) Are you / were you homecoming queen? A drama kid? The girl who always had to have a boyfriend? The guy who could never get a date for the dance? The kid everyone liked to team with for assignments but whom no one liked anywhere else?
How would you like to try on a different role? Contemporary can let you do that. I think this may actually be what ended up hooking me. I like adventure. I like to be the kick-ass heroine who takes down the big bad and casts spells or weilds double daggers. But there is a different kind of allure, a true sense of "The Road Not Taken" when I read a contemporary that I really enjoy, such as Shut Out by Kody Keplinger or Perfect Chemistry by Simone Eskeles.
I tend to get very drawn into a book when I enjoy it. I actually see it in my head like it's a movie and there have been times I have asked people what movie a scene was from, only to later realize that I was describing something from when I read a book. Contemporary allows a different type of adventure, a different form of exploration, than most genres. I enjoy discovering new worlds, meeting strange beings and all of that ... But the idea of imagine what if about having a different 'real' history is something I have found very compelling.
5. Contemporary authors face the unique challenge of making extraordinary stories about "ordinary" lives.
The last thing that I think is worth touching on, as someone who writes as well as reads, is the challenge that writing in this particular genre within YA must entail. It is true that someone once said "Truth is stranger then fiction.", but writing fiction that must somehow mirror reality and yet still entertain the reader cannot be easy.
When I review a contemporary book, for instance, one of the hardest things for me to really analyze and discuss is the plot. It's not that contemporary books don't have a plot. It's that the requirements and needs of a contemporary plot often feel very different then what I am use to when reading fantasy or paranormal.
If it challenges me when reviewing, developing it as a writer must also take a certain knack, dedication and skill. My hat's definitely off to those who can do this well, as they have written some totally fabulous books that I have really enjoyed.
Thanks so much for reading. I hope that I have brought to light some food for thought the next time that you take a look at a YA contemporary novel when at your local bookstore or shopping online. I would like to conclude with this thought... If the purpose of fantasy or paranormal is to escape reality and explore a world of magic and wonder, then perhaps the purpose of contemporary is to boldly face not only our own reality, but also that of many others. Through this, if we desire, I feel that we are capable of gaining a better understanding of the lives we could have lead, the roads we could have taken -- the good, and the bad.
So, what are your thoughts? Have you even considered why you love your favorite book genre or why you are drawn to it? I'd love to know. :)
And check out the Guest Post by Alissa at The Grammarian's Reviews, which posted earlier this week! Several other blogs took part as well; a full list will be available on Ashley's blog!
Also, don't forget to check out MY guest post over at Kat Reads!