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Teens and Genre Fiction
On November 19th, Mark made his debut with a post titled “What We Talk About When We Talk About Teens.” He made several terrific points, as did the contributing AB4T reviewers, but there is one thing missing in that discussion –the popularity of genre fiction among teens.
When a teen is a fan of a particular genre, he or she is likely to discover the adult authors rather early, wouldn’t you say? Think about your die-hard fantasy readers. In my library they are deep into reading George Martin, Patricia McKillip, Lois McMaster Bujold, Lev Grossman. When they read Juliet Marillier’s work, they read everything, no matter which audience it was published for.
When I look at possible titles to review on the blog, I look for general appeal in genre titles beyond adolescent characters or concerns, especially when it comes to fantasy, mystery, and thrillers. For one, it’s hard to find adult titles in those genres that center on a teen character, especially among thrillers (although, there are exceptions — did you read Defending Jacob this year?).
To some extent, genre fiction is the comfort food of reading for teens. Within their favorite genre they know what to expect, so they come back to it again and again. Also, within that genre they may be more likely to stretch their wings. Genre fiction fandom may also help them to carve out an identity, or lead them to a like-minded group of teens they identify with.
Genre does very well indeed when it comes to the Alex Awards, which are all about appeal. Let’s look at the 2011 and 2012 lists.
Among the 2011 Alex Award winners there are 3 coming of age novels, as well as a modern-day vampire novel (The Radleys), post-apocalyptic zombies (The Reapers are the Angels), crime (The Lock Artist), literary fiction with a supernatural edge (The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake), and Room. (What IS Room? A thriller? Family drama?)
The 2012 Alex Awards feature The Night Circus (fantasy), Ready Player One (science fiction) and Robopocalypse (science fiction/thriller).
It is interesting to observe attitudes toward genre fiction at this time of year when some big awards are announced. Genre fiction rarely wins the literary awards. In her Salon article “National Book Awards Genre Fiction Dissed Again,” Laura Miller bemoans the absence of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn on the NBA shortlist, as well as books by Tana French and Kate Atlkinson. And she points out “the traditional objections to genre fiction — that it is formulaic, psychologically inauthentic and indifferently executed.” This seems like such an old-fashioned attitude these days.
The other place one finds only the rare genre fiction shout-out is the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2012.
Of course, this all depends on one’s definition of genre fiction. In Joyce Saricks’ book The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (ALA Editions, 2009) she includes Literary Fiction as a genre. I think here we are talking about the more traditional definition, which includes historical fiction, horror, mystery, thriller, science fiction, fantasy and their subgenres.
So let me point out two terrific resources for the best adult genre fiction of the year.
The same group that chooses the ALA Notables list each year also produces The Reading List. Established in 2007 by the CODES section of RUSA, The Reading List “seeks to highlight outstanding genre fiction that merit special attention by general adult readers and the librarians who work with them.”
A committee of twelve librarians selects one book from each of eight different categories: adrenaline (suspense, thrillers, and action adventure), fantasy, historical fiction, horror, mystery, romance, science fiction, and women’s fiction. They also share a shortlist for each category.
If you look at the 2012 winners (for books published in 2011) you will see nice overlap with our AB4T Best of the Year and the Alex winners. The Night Circus (fantasy) and The Language of Flowers (women’s fiction) win their categories, while shortlists include Ready Player One (science fiction), When She Woke (science fiction), The Magician King (fantasy), and The Wise Man’s Fear (fantasy).
By the way, the Reading List winners are announced on the Sunday evening of ALA Midwinter at a RUSA ceremony that is the equivalent of the Monday morning Youth Media Awards. Much smaller and more low-key, but equally enthusiastic.
The other great resource for adult genre fiction is the Library Journal best books list. LJ announced the Best Books 2012 just last week, which is presented in categories, most of them genre-related: Young Adult Literature for Adults, Thrillers, Mysteries, Romance, Ebook Romance, Christian Fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Street Lit. This year’s lists do not scream teen appeal, so I won’t belabor any connections. But it’s a great group of titles all the same — and I appreciate the Young Adult Literature for Adults list. Is this the only one of its kind?
I realize this post is more of an introduction to these ideas than full of conclusions. Genre fiction is something I plan to focus on in my own 2013 review reading. I found myself mostly reading literary fiction this year — time to break my own habit! So, stay tuned for more in the new year; I look forward to sharing my explorations.
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About Angela Carstensen
Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.
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