8. Group projects are totally in.
Get used to dual bylines. Some of the biggest names in YA literature, including Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera, have collaborated on books in recent years. Co-writing offers authors a way to step out of their own worlds and try a new style. It can also result in unexpected craft benefits.
Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal co-wrote I’m Not Dying with You Tonight in 2019 and released their second book, Why We Fly, last fall. They learned mighty fast that writing from different points of view didn’t work for them. Instead, they write side by side, playing to their strengths to create a better book. Says Jones, “I come from a screenwriting background, and so pace and dialogue are my strong suit. We lean into that: I write a lot of the dialogue, and Gilly writes a lot of the beautiful interior, lyric passages that tell you where the character is in their head.” Adds Segal, “Kim is much more auditory, and I’m much more visual. I need to be the scribe, typing it out, while Kim will talk out her scenes.” The result, they say, is a book that better reflects teens’ interior and exterior lives.
9. It’s too early to say if pandemic books will shine or shrivel.
In this, YA is no different than other genres. The industry isn’t sure yet if people want to read about the pandemic or ignore it for a few years. David Arnold wrote last year’s The Electric Kingdom, which takes place after a deadly flu has swept the globe. He wrote it pre-pandemic, but wow, what timing, he acknowledges. He’s uncertain if the world is quite ready for books dealing directly with COVID-19.
“In March of 2020, when my family started quarantining, my work on the book was largely done. I was making copy edits and small changes. We all had a sense of, ‘OK, what in the world do we do?’” Arnold remembers. “In many ways, we had to figure out new ways to live and operate, not unlike in the book. I was grateful for the post-apocalyptic setting, after the flu.”
Our society is so competition-based that it lacks a real backbone of empathy, and the trauma from being forced to survive in these conditions came to a sort of climax in 2020. I think people want to see those traumas and fears reflected on the page.
Several backlist titles about pandemics, like Laurie Halse Anderson’s 2011 novel Fever 1793, which is ranked No. 1 in several Amazon YA categories, saw revived sales amidst the pandemic. But until more books dealing specifically with 2020 come out (remember, publishing lags 12 to 18 months behind real time), the future for this subgenre will stay murky.
Several authors said they expect to see darker, though not necessarily pandemic-focused, books arise from this period. “I think people are ready to go to dark, gritty places,” says Ryan Douglass, author of The Taking of Jake Livingston. “Our society is so competition-based that it lacks a real backbone of empathy, and the trauma from being forced to survive in these conditions came to a sort of climax in 2020. I think people want to see those traumas and fears reflected on the page. I also think YA readers are yearning for content that feels more edgy since there’s a lot of safe YA out there already.”
10. Post-pandemic, addressing mental health is essential, not optional.
Years ago, YA books focused on mental health as the focal part of the story. Increasingly, mental health is part of a greater story acknowledging how depression, anxiety, and other conditions impact youth. The lead detective in Johnson’s Devious takes medication for her anxiety. Gayle Forman’s latest, We Are Inevitable, has story arcs about a parent’s mental illness and brother’s addiction. Spades examines the effect of micro-aggressions on the mental health of the Black, queer lead characters. Adib Khorram’s 2018 Darius the Great Is Not Okay chronicles a family trip to Iran where father and son cope with depression.
Normalizing discussions about mental health is part of the point, especially right now. “After living through 2020, who among us hasn’t known someone struggling with questions of mental health?” asks Julia Drake, author of 2021’s Last True Poets of the Sea, which includes a character who attempts suicide. “I hope readers come away understanding that just because there aren’t easy answers to mental health problems doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of happiness and joy to be found in the difficulties.”
No matter what trends come and go and ultimately come back again – looking at you, vampires – YA authors will continue to focus on those universal feelings associated with the teenage years. Declares Arnold, “There’s fertile storytelling there.”
Copy Editor Toni Fitzgerald is also a freelance editor for other magazines and nonfiction books. She and her 12-year-old daughter often spar over who gets first dibs on the YA novels they check out of the library together. Web: tonifitz76.com