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Top 10 Trends in Teen Fiction 2011

Every year you notice them, the trends in teen fiction.  After the wild success of Harry Potter there were a ton of new Fantasy novels being written for teens.  For the last couple of years vampire fiction was without a doubt super hot, due in part to the success of the Twilight saga.  Then all of the sudden there were zombies everywhere.  And thanks to the success of Hunger Games, we can’t get enough Dystopian fiction.  I have minded none of these trends to be honest.  So, what is going on this year in teen fiction?  After throwing out a survey on the TLT FB page and the Yalsa-bk list serve, here is what we have come up with . . .

You can download the poster at http://www.box.net/shared/ksdm16quocvfela9fz2e

1.  Evil Geniuses
The evil genius trend probably began quite a few years ago with the success of the Artemis Fowl books.  And with Heist Society being turned into a film (with the help of Drew Barrymore), it is likely to continue to be popular.  Plus, they are a lot of fun.  Suggested titles in this category include Heist Society by Ally Carter and the H.I.V.E. series.  Other recommended titles include The Squad by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty, and the Hero.com/Villian.net series by Andy Briggs.  For younger audiences you can’t pass up The Mysterious Benedict Society.  And for just plain fun be sure to check out Dr. Horrible’s Sing A Long Blog, not a book and not necessarily for younger teens – but too awesome not to be included!

2.  Paranormal Romance
There is no escaping the popularity of paranormal romance.  If you walk into a bookstore they have entire sections of teen fiction now individually labelled paranormal romance.  Amazon.com even has a separate page for paranormal romance for teens.  Vampires, werewolves, faeries, half demons and more . . . they are all represented.  There are way to many to even begin listing them all, but my favorite has to be The Wolves of Mercy Fall series by Maggie Steifvater.  For faeries be sure to check out the Darkest Mercies series by Melissa Marr.  And for vampire readers try Vampire Kisses by Ellen Schreiber (also available as a gn series), Richelle Mead or the Morganville Vampires by Rachel Caine.  For Buffy fans you will definitely want to check out The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, also soon coming to a theater for you.

3. Twins
The Lying Game by Sara Sheppard is now a series on ABC Family.  At the same time Sarah Michelle Gellar has returned to the CW in a series entitled Ringer.  Both are about twins.  There are also a lot of titles featuring twins in teen fiction.  My current favorite twin title is Bruiser by Neal Shusterman.  Bruiser is the story of, well, Bruiser – a boy who can literally take the pain of others, but at what cost to him?  The twins come in the form of Tennyson and his twin sister Bronte.  When Tennyson learns that Bronte is dating Brewster (aka Bruiser), they both learn a lot about themselves and the power of pain.  This is such an amazing story and I highly recommend it.  Other twin books recommended include Pretty Bad Things by C. J. Skuse, Kindred by Tammar Stein, This Dark Endeavor by kenneth Oppel, Envy by Gregg Olsen and Night School by Mari Mancusi.  Not enough twin titles?  Also try Chime by Franny Billingsley, Bumped by Megan McCafferty, Wither by Lauren DeStefano and Blood Red Road by Moira Young.

4.  Steam Punk
There is no denying the current popularity of steam punk.  Steam punk usually takes place in Victorian times and involves steam powered machinery.  The Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld is perhaps one of the most popular steam punk series for teens out there at the moment.  And everyone at yalsa seems to recommend listening to the audio.  In addition to the Leviathan series, you’ll want to make sure your teens check out The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross, Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, and Incarceron by Catherine Fisher.

5.  Multicultural, especially Japanese inspired
Graphic Novels and Manga have been popular for quite a while now.  Bookstores now have HUGE areas devoted to the genre.  Often times they have more gns/manga then they do teen fiction to be honest.  Of course this genre spans all age levels.  The influence of Japan can now been seen in teen fiction, too.  In fact, a lot of martial arts seems to be seeping into the pages of teen fiction, which should greatly appeal to boys.  Martial arts makes an appearance in the Young Samurai series by Chris Bradford.  They also played a role in the Nine Lives of Chloe King which had a brief run as a series on ABC Family (it has been cancelled sadly).  Martial arts also plays a key role in the new Dark Territory series by J. Gabriel Gates (I recently reviewed this for VOYA).

6.  Mermaids and Sirens
Last year it seemed like everything was about fallen angels (see Lauren Kate and Becca Fitzgerald series), this year it seems like fins have replaced wings with a huge crop of mermaid tales coming out.  Recommended titles include Mermaid’s Mirror by L. K. Madigan, Forbidden Sea by Sheila Neilson and Forgive My fins by Tera Lynn Childs.  One of the character’s in Paranormalcy by Kiersten White is a mermaid.  Mermaids also appear in the Lost Voices trilogy by Sarah Porter.

7.  Boarding Schools
One of the trends mentioned involves location, location, location.  In this particular instance: boarding school.  It seems like the best way to get rid of parents in teen fiction these days it to send a teen off to boarding school.  Titles recommended include Anna and the French Kiss, Viola in Reel Life, the Mockingbirds and Variant.  Variant is the first in a new series and I highly recommend it.  I recently reviewed it – highly recommended – for VOYA.  I can not wait to read what happens next.

8.  Dystopian
Filming for the Hunger Games movie recently wrapped up and the movie is set to open across the US in March of 2012.  Make no mistake, the popularity of this series has opened a floodgate of Dystopian fiction.  Dystopian fiction is typically set in a post-apocalyptic world which is bleak and individuals have little control over their lives as their is strong government control.  School Library Journal has run some recent dystopian lists for your convenience.  One type of dystopian tale involves environmental issues – the world ended by climate or environmental disasters.  You can catch SLJ’s list here.  They also have a really good list of all dystopia here.  I love love loved the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and can’t wait for the movie.  I am currently listening to Delirium by Lauren Oliver on audio-cd and am enjoying it, also.  You can throw some classics into the mix and make sure your teens get their hands on 1984 by George Orwell and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

9.  Mythology and Fairy Tales
Probably due in part to the popularity of the Percy Jackson series, there is a resurgence of mythology and fairy tales popping up in teen fiction.  This is also true for TV and moves, Twilight’s Kristen Stewart will be appearing in a new version of Snow White on film while another version of Snow White will soon be coming to your local tv station.  Titles recommended in this category include the works of Rick Riordan, Abandon by Meg Cabot (a retelling of Hades and Persephone) and Sweetly by Jackson Pearce (a retelling of Hansel and Gretel, also ironically twins).

10.  Zombies
The dead are rising everywhere – and that is true in teen fiction as well.  Last year The Walking Dead took off on TV, an adaptation of a highly popular long running graphic novel series.  Suddenly it seemed that zombies were everywhere, including in your favorite classic works of literature (see Pride, Prejudice and Zombies).  One yalsa contributor threw out a classic Buffy reference, earning major bonus points, and said that this year zombies were the new “big bad.”  Totally true.  The Rot & Ruin series by Jonathan Maberry is quite frankly, hands down, my favorite.  But I am enjoying them all.  For a look at zombie books see this poster.  Be sure also to check out the Charles Higgens series.  And although World War Z is technically an adult book, teens will enjoy this look back at the zombie wars that destroyed our nation (coming soon to a movie theater near you starring Brad Pitt).

And a couple of trends that didn’t quite make the cut . . .
One trend mentioned that didn’t make the poster was the length of teen books today.  Without a doubt they are lllloooonnnnnggggg and tend to be in trilogies; but that didn’t seem like a strong selling point LOL (although definitely true).  Some other trends that got votes include girls that kick butt (seriously, check out the Gallagher Girl series by Ally Carter) and books in multiple voices, which occurs in a great deal of teen fiction today.

A Banned Books Week Primer

On paper, I seem like the least likely candidate to advocate for Banned Books Week.  I have a bachelor’s degree in youth ministry from a conservative Christian college and I teach children’s church.  Don’t get me wrong, there are books that I have read that have appalled me (although more for just bad writing then for actual content).  But some of the very books that have been challenged by others are the very books that have touched me and made a difference in my life.  In fact, the biggest turning point in my life came when I was in the 11th grade and read To Kill a Mockingbird.  How could you not love Atticus Finch?  I get that it deals with some dark and heavy things.  But I also get that the world itself is often dark and heavy.  I think there is great benefit in slowly learning about the truth of the world in safe environments where you can process the information in your own time in the safety of your home.  Although it is truly wrong for us to assume that we know anything about the life of others and the truth is, there are teens living lives more horrific than they could ever read in a book. 

Four years ago I lost a baby to miscarriage.  It was the most horrific experience I could ever have imagined.  To help me crawl out of that dark place, I read every book my library had on the topic of miscarriage – fiction and nonfiction.  And when I was through with those I ILLed more.  I needed to read the stories of others and know that I was not alone.  I needed to know that others felt the pain, the rage, the jealousy and the emptiness that had taken place in the emptiness I now felt inside me.  Reading the stories of others helped me slowly crawl my way out of a dark abyss.  I want teens who are struggling with abuse, addiction, identity issues, etc. to have the same tools that I did.  I want them to be able to read the stories of others and know that they are not alone.  I want them to find the strength to get help and change their life in positive ways.  I want them to know that there is hope.

And let’s look at the opposite life example: those teens who are growing up in safe and healthy home environments.  I am a mother of 2 little girls and I get the need and desire to protect them.  But I also know that every day they are getting 1 step closer to going out into this big wide world that no matter how safe I want it to be, the reality is that it often isn’t.  I need them to develop an understanding of how people can be and how they should respond.  I want them to learn to keep themselves safe.  I would rather my daughters learn about abusive boyfriends in a book and know how to spot the signs and get out rather than experience it firsthand when it is too late.  Plus, I want them to learn compassion for others.  It is a big world, every one’s life is different.  I want them to be able to embrace others and be a light in the world.  Again, I would rather them do this by taking safe baby steps in the pages of a book then to wait until they are 18 and shove them off an unexpected cliff into the abyss that is the real world.

No one can ever guess the way a story will affect the life of another.  In the 6th grade I read It by Stephen King (for the record I was supposed to be reading The Hobbit, which I have still never read – oops).  It would be easy for an outsider to say that I shouldn’t be reading that book because it was too scary or too violent.  But that book touched me and taught me what true friendship was.  It changed the goals I set for myself in that I wanted to be a better friend and have meaningful relationships.  I wanted to have people in my life that I could look back into the past with and have shared stories.  Other people read It and they just become afraid of clowns, sewers and spiders (and with good reason).  My point is this: each book touches us all differently.  I can’t predict how you will respond to what you read, I don’t get to decide for you what you can read.  And vice versa.

So yes I enthusiastically embrace the idea of Banned Books Week.  I stand up and challenge those who would try and censor what others read or have access to.  Remember that censorship is more than a parent deciding what is right for their child; censorship is someone trying to say what is right for all children (and adults, too).  Intellectual freedom is an important value for us all.

So here are some basic Banned Books Weeks resources to get you started:
The basic ALA guide
The American Booksellers Foundation also has a list of display ideas
The American Booksellers Foundation also has a list of books challenged/banned and the reasons why
Random House has a teacher’s guide with a variety of ideas
Kelly Milner Halls does a lot of work for Chris Crutcher regarding censorship and you can see it here.  You can also download CC BBW posters designed by me, Karen Jensen
For more general BWW posters, you can visit the Teen Librarian’s Toolbox FB page and download these.  You can print them and use them for display or download the digital image and use it on your webpage and FB pages.
I also wrote a blog post about BBW and shared a few ideas
This post has a poster that gives some specific books and the reasons they are banned
A couple of ideas for your social media page:
1.  Post a book a day and have teens guess the reason why the book was challenged/banned.  Or give the reason and have them guess the book.  You can make it multiple choice if you want.
2.  Make a simple contest sheet where you remove the titles from books and have teen guess what the books is and match the reason it is banned/challenged.  You can upload the contest sheet so teens can download it and turn it in.  You can also make them available in your teen area for pick up.
3.  Tap into teens creativity and ask them to design book covers or posters for Banned Books Week.  During BBW have a drop in workshop.  Share the images electronically to raise awareness.
4.  Have an online book discussion of a BBW title.
5.  Share a variety of online resources by “pushing” links through your feed.
For example, in this youtube clip John Green discusses the fact that he is *not* a pornographer.
6.  This past year there were a lot of online articles and discussions about teen fiction and whether or not it is too dark, etc.  Share these articles with your teens and get them discussing it.  What do they think about the fiction they read?
7.  Ask teens to write a twitter feed describing a world in which reading was not allowed.
8.  Share a quote a day about BBW
9.  Share a link to an author a day that has been challenged/banned
10.  Take 1 day and make your pages go completely silent.  That is what would happen if censors had their way.

Banned Books Week: Teen Fiction Is . . .

Depending on whom you ask, the answer may be “too dark”.  This year teen fiction like The Hunger Games came under fire as The Wall Street Journal, bloggers and NPR and asked, is teen fiction too dark?

The answer is, some of it is too dark for some readers.  Some of it is too light and fluffy for some readers.  Teen fiction, like children’s fiction and adult fiction, is a little bit of everything.  There is something for everyone – and that’s the way it should be.

The truth is that teens everywhere are living a wide variety of lives.  Sadly, there are teenagers who are living lives full of abuse, at home or at school; they live lives full of drugs and identity crisis and sex and . . . well, most of us try hard not to remember, but the teenage years are exciting and stressful and confusing and scary.
When I hear adults fretting about the darkness in teen fiction, I think of the teen who came into my library just a couple of years ago: at 22 weeks pregnant she had an abortion while her brother (5) and sister (7) sat in the parking lot and waited.  Her life was dark and she needed some realistic fiction to help her know that she was not alone and that there was a way out of the darkness.  There is no fiction darker than the life she was living.  And that is the sad truth for a lot of teens.
The truth is, teens are living lives every day that many of us could never imagine.  And if some teens aren’t, well – a parent guided reading of some darker fiction can help those teens understand the life of some of their peers and develop compassion.  It can help them develop the tools they need to engage and guide those teens to seek help from parents, counselors or some other means.  In order to have compassion for others, we must understand other points of view and step into other worlds.  Reading helps us develop a global perspective, a mature thinking process, and the tools we need to grow, overcome and step meaningfully into the world.
The truth is that we all have to walk away from home one day and engage what can be a very dark world.  The news tells us daily of the 3 wars we are engaged in, of how we are on the brink of imminent financial collapse, of mothers who murder babies and sometimes babies (teens) who murder their mothers.  Teen fiction helps teens take baby steps into the “real” world.  In the safety of their home and with the help of the adults around them processing what they are reading, teens can slowly begin to see that every day there are people living lives different than their own.  How much safer for teens to take baby steps into that world rather then jump off the cliff without a parachute.
What a gift it is for a teen to find that book that speaks to them; to their situation.  Who are we to assume we know what is right for that teen?  Each heart and mind is moved differently.  An outsider does not have the right to determine for someone else what is right for them.  I remember reading It by Stephen King in the 6th grade:  Whatever it may have been, to me it was a model of friendship.  Whenever I think of that book I am reminded of what it means to be a faithful friend.  And that is why I oppose censorship and support things like Banned Books Week.  I don’t like every book I read, and there are books that I would not want my child to read (totally and completely my choice), but I don’t want others having the power to determine what I or my child can or can not read.
Remember, throughout the course of history, one of the most banned and challenged books has been the Bible.  Never assume that you will get to be the one determining which books are banned.
So what will you be doing to raise awareness during Banned Books Week?
  • Get your teens thinking and discussing teen fiction and the freedom to read, share links to the various recent press it has received and see what they have to say (below).
  • Have a simple contest where you give the reason a book was banned/challenged and see if they can guess the book.
ALA.org
  • Do a display that highlights various banned/challenged titles.
  • Have a book discussion group that discusses some of the banned/challenged book, or books about censorship such as The Day They Came to Arrest the Book.
  • Arrest some of the banned/challenged books and have a read-a-thon to get teens to read to release them (think the MDA jail-a-thon fundraiser).
  • Make bookmarks and posters (they are also available via the ALA)
  • Have teens create visuals for banned books – posters, commercials, etc.  This could be a contest, craft activity or independent activity.  Or they can just make visuals about the concept of censorship.
The 2010 BBW Graphic from ALA.org
This is also a great time to remind staff of the library’s Intellectual Freedom position.  Don’t hesitate to get them involved in discussions.  Have a brown bag chat staff lunch and discuss.  Every day send out information on a book title that has been banned or challenged and tell them why.
THE single most dangerous idea out there is the idea that anyone can ban a book and impede your access to information.  Exercise your freedom to read.  Stand up for the freedom to read.

Recent articles about Teen Fiction:
The Wall Street Journal
Salon.com
NPR
Chris Crutcher’s Response