In Part I of this series, we’ve explored two trends in writing YA: fantasy and retellings. This time, let’s examine trends that speak to important social and cultural topics.
TREND 3: EMPHASIZE MULTICULTURALISM AND DIVERSITY
Stories with characters from different cultures continue to be a big draw for tweens and teens. With our current national awareness, YA magazines, websites and book publishers are begging for well-written articles, short stories and books — fiction and nonfiction.
In 1997, Mildred Taylor won the Newbery Medal with her Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. In 2020, she wrapped up the Logan family saga with All the Days Past, All the Days to Come. This Coretta Scott King Author Honour Book concludes the story of the much-loved character of Cassie Logan and explores the rise of the Civil Rights Movement.
Books for YA readers need to speak to multiculturalism. Novels for the Christian market include The Means that Make Us Strangers which won the 2020 Christy Award in the YA category. BookLife said about this self-published novel, “Teen readers interested in the civil rights era will be enthralled by this nuanced story of race relations in the 1960s American South, seen through the eyes of a white girl raised in Ethiopia.”
Diversity means Americans are not just white. And even the ones who are descend from distinct heritages in Europe. Publishers seek stories that expose readers to other cultures.
They also seek books as part of the Own Voices movement. To oversimplify, that means diverse books written by members of that same group, that same identity. YA examples would be the award-winning novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas as well as Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.
Own Voices is a movement still trying to find its way, but without a doubt, the movement is impacting YA literature, and the key for us today is to continue to be a light as we tell stories that point readers to God’s Truth. That may be through overt faith-filled stories in the Christian market or through one straightforward subplot in a novel published by a secular house. For example, You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins draws from her childhood experience of immigrating from India to the United States. As her characters grapple with how much Bengali tradition to retain as they pursue the American Dream, one daughter’s exploration leads her to faith in Jesus Christ. A beautifully woven thread winds through this epic novel named by both School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly as Best Book of the Year.
Despite the contention emphasized by the news, God is still sovereign, and we need to write what He has called us to write, bringing His Truth and His love to young readers. Emphasize multiculturalism and diversity.
TREND 4: WRITE ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS
Teen guys think about girls and teen girls dream about guys, talk about guys, watch movies about guys, read about guys. J You get the idea. Relationships consume many YA readers’ thoughts. One sure bet is to write about them. Magazine articles can tell a girl or guy how to act on a date, how to choose a romantic relationship wisely, or why God tells us to save ourselves for marriage.
While YA novels often focus on romance or at least make romance one of the subplots, other relationships such as family matter to teen readers too. Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe remain perennial favorites, speaking with strength on this topic, read by generation after generation.
Articles can tackle teaching parents to be cool or, more importantly, relating with and understanding parents. So can novels. June Bug, a Christy-award finalist, deals with a special father-daughter relationship that changes when she spots herself on a poster with photos of missing children. While Lindsay Franklin’s Weaver Trilogy is fantasy, the novels focus heavily on relationships: father-daughter, mother-daughter, girl-guy friendship, sibling tension, and budding romance as well as how these different relationships impact each other in the main character’s life.
Teen readers also care about friendships, peer pressure, reputation and what others think. That’s why chick lit books like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen sold big and became big box office draws. And in this era, teens still care about those same aspects of relationships.
Also, don’t overlook Sally Apokedak’s The Button Girl which deals with the selfless nature of love in a hopeless situation. Or, S.E. Clancy’s Victoria Grace, The Jerkface (a 2021 Carol Award finalist) where a teen girl develops an unlikely friendship with a nursing home resident, learning that everyone needs friends.
In an era of increasing awareness about diversity, teens encounter a world bigger than themselves yet still cling to the friends and family they know. Write about multiculturalism and relationships, so you can draw in and reach teens with your work.
Join me next week when I talk about three more trends: Quirky, But Moving; Explore Issues; and NonFiction. And don’t forget to register for the Master Class on Writing for Young Adults with Tessa Hall.