4. Climate change-focused novels may be the next big thing.
Magic. Vampires. Carbon-neutral energy sources? The new hot topic in YA fiction digs into something a little less supernatural and a little more consequential. A slew of books out in 2021 and 2022 deal with the dire ramifications of global warming. Authors frustrated over politicians’ failure to act on climate change are penning books depicting the aftermath of the inaction, and it is brutal.
He, whose latest novel takes place in a post-climate-emergency disaster, seized on the relatability of the climate theme. “I knew I wanted a near-apocalyptic setting, and I wanted to pick something that felt like it wouldn’t require readers to suspend their disbelief, so I picked climate change as opposed to aliens or something like that,” He says.
5. Books tied to existing franchises are hot.
Reboots work. It’s a lesson learned through film, where Fast & Furious and Mission: Impossible flourish over not years but decades. And it’s true in the book world, too, where publishers want to goad teens from, say, playing the latest video games on their phones to reading about game characters in a novel.
From Disney retellings of fairy tales to in-depth character sketches of Marvel secondary characters, YA is awash in franchise-inspired books where authors still enjoy the freedom to tell their own stories, too. Clayton wrote Shattered Midnight: A Mirror Novel, one of four stories in the Disney fairy tale series The Mirror, about a curse that moves from generation to generation. Such an assignment often carries a surprising amount of freedom.
“I was only given the things Zora was supposed to do versus who she was, so I dug deep to really fill what made her special and unique, and her deepest desires. I wanted to make her feel well-rounded and deeply flawed,” Clayton says. “I read a lot of newspapers from the 1920s to immerse myself in what women were seeing at the time. I read a lot of books from the writers writing in the time period as well to anchor myself in that time period and build characters out of those primary sources.”
6. One book is good. Two (or more!) books are better.
From Divergent to The Hunger Games, popular books tend to come in twos and threes – the more, the better, really. Sometimes this necessitates making plot changes on the fly. When Jennifer Lynn Barnes wrote the first book in her Inheritance Games series, she wasn’t sure if there would be a book two. “I had a slightly different ending for a standalone book than a series. I didn’t add the last twist in book one until the last minute, when I knew I would get to write a book two,” Barnes says. “Then for book two, I had the list of things that weren’t resolved in book one – the balls that were still up in the air.” Inheritance became a bestseller, and now it will be a trilogy.
7. Mysteries continue their moment.
Speaking of Inheritance, a puzzle-rich tale about a teen who unexpectedly inherits billions, mysteries have become a hot YA subgenre. You can credit the success of books like One of Us Is Lying (more than 200 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list) plus Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s breakout 2021 smash Ace of Spades, which frames a biting rebuke of racism around a mystery. If you read Spades, you undoubtedly clamored to talk about that ending after finishing the book. Teens are all about sharing, from Bookstagram to BookTok (discussions of books on social channels Instagram and TikTok, respectively), and mystery lends itself well to that. “The mystery/thriller genre includes books that kick you in the teeth emotionally. You can’t believe that ending, and you need someone else to read it so you can yell at them about it,” Barnes says.
Mysteries require a good deal of discipline to write, notes Maureen Johnson, whose successful Truly Devious trilogy recently birthed its first standalone sequel, the 2021 camp mystery The Box in the Woods. “With mysteries, I have to know exactly what happened before I can start,” she says. “As I see it, everything in a mystery starts with the why – why the original event occurred. Who and how are the companion questions, but why is the starter. I build the murder and the backstory first. I have to know everything. So the writing isn’t so much a process of putting things into the story; it’s deciding where to pull information back, where to draw the curtains.”