For someone who is getting a degree in the history and critical theory of children’s and YA lit, I am losing a lot of faith in YA. The more popular it gets, the worse it gets, it seems. The market is becoming over-saturated with derivative dystopia crap that’s all just The Giver with older protagonists or Brave New World with less sex, and people are forgetting that teens are just younger than other people, not stupider or less deserving of real books–defined here in this post as having a beginning, middle, and end and still being a complete narrative even if it’s a series.
How have people forgotten how to do this? It’s just like television–yes, every episode should point to the show’s greater mythology if it’s a sci-fi or fantasy show, or it should point to the greater villain or character development if it’s, say, a crime or medical drama. But that doesn’t mean episodes don’t end. The same has to be true of your novel. If it’s not, you’re a bad writer, and your editor and publisher are awful for feeding into the machine of bad books instead of encouraging you to write a good novel that stands alone even if it’s not a standalone.
(Just to be clear, I am blaming everyone for this. I understand that at this point, you probably can’t keep your job as a writer or an editor if you don’t encourage trilogies, no matter how low quality they are. But I’m going to say that all marketers, consumers, writers, editors, and CEOs have contributed to taking a category (NOT a genre – audience is not genre) with amazing talent and innovation and style and nearly ruined it for us all.)
But I’m looking for standalones. So here’s what I’m waiting on for the next few months.
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys (Philomel)
I actually got this ARC at ALA and still haven’t gotten to read it because school is trying to kill me. But it sounds fabulous, as does Sepetys’ first book, which I also still haven’t read because there are so many books. There’s something about having a protagonist who is the daughter of a prostitute that just sounds incredibly compelling and intriguing when it’s in a YA book.
The Milk of Birds by Sylvia Whitman (Atheneum)
This book about an American teen and a teen refugee from Darfur instantly caught my eye. First, judging a book by its cover may no longer be accurate because all YA covers are in a bad place just like dystopias are, but judging a book by its title will always be interesting. But also, after spending my last year in Tucson mentoring and working with refugees, this just seems like a good and important read.
Trinkets by Kirsten Smith (Little, Brown)
Okay, Kirsten Smith has written all of the screenplays of all of the good movies (except we’ll forget that she and everyone involved with the film adaptation of Ella Enchanted had strokes and royally fucked it up). I always meant to read her other book but somehow never did, and quite frankly, this book sounds much better. By the description, in which two teen girls join a Shoplifters Anonymous group, it could be a really bad Alloy wannabe, but I think I’m going to trust Smith to make it smart and hilarious.
City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster (HarperCollins)
Okay, again, it’s really the title that got me. But it’s also about cities of lost people, like any city should be, and there are orphans and weird jobs and mysterious people. Those are basically all of my favorite things. I just hope it’s a little less creepy than “City of Lost Children.”
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Arthur A. Levine)
This book is about futuristic Brazil! That’s kind of perfect, because I want to go back to Brazil and maybe live there in the future. So that’s basically the same thing. Anyway, this book gets diversity and uniqueness points right off the bat, but it also just sounds really great and like it features a nouveau Carnaval. I don’t give the marketing team points, because they exoticized the shit out of it, but it still sounds pretty awesomesauce.
Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt (Macmillan)
Ermahgerd, this sounds excellent and fresh! A girl gets cheated on and decides to live like it’s 1962 and eschew Facebook breakups and all. And apparently that leads to other things, like sewing her own homecoming dress. This could be so good or so cliche, but I’m hoping for the former.
As far as I could tell from Edelweiss, these are not series. If they turn out to be, I’m going to be pretty sad. And I will probably not try reading them after all. It’s not that they’re all bad, but it’s kind of like how it’s generally not worth it to read self-published books, even if there are a few good ones. I just don’t have time, and I’m tired of being disappointed and wasting my time. That said, it’s not like I’m quitting them completely. There would be no books if I did that. However, I am happily and eagerly taking suggestions for upcoming standalones I haven’t listed here!