Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Caitlin Considers: The Importance of Contemporary YA

I have revived my discussion posts in honour of our Contemporary Summer event and today I want to look at the importance of Contemp YA to those who read it. Now you might be wondering why Contemp YA is any more important than any other forms of YA. And maybe it isn't, in terms of writing, plots, characters etc. But I think it has some importance in the terms that this particular genre, probably more than others, can help us come to terms with things about ourselves, our situations, or can teach us things that we probably need to know.

Now, this can be fairly light things; if you look at the Georgia Nicholson series by Louise Rennison, I reckon that probably taught me a lot about how to (and how not to) talk to boys. It also taught me to never put a blonde streak in my own hair with peroxide. You learn a lot about the regular stressors of growing up from reading about people, albeit fictional characters, doing the same thing. In general, these sort of books can help you feel like you are totally and perfectly normal. So what if you haven't kissed a boy by 16, or if you hair just WILL NOT STAY STRAIGHT. There'll be a character somewhere, in some Contemporary YA novel on some shelf whose hair will also not stay straight and who has never kissed a boy. Being a teenager can be fairly difficult, and being shown that whatever you're going through is totes fine, is very very relieving,

There's a more serious side to Contemporary fiction though, As well as helping us with the more obvious things about being a teenager, contemp fiction can also help with the things that, whilst still completely normal, are harder to deal with, more isolating, more affecting, and/or carry more stigma.Issues such as bullying, mental illness, grief, eating disorders, self-harm and a wide range of other topics have been covered in an array of YA books. Now I'm not just talking about 'issue' books, but actual contemp fiction where the MC or another character, is dealing with something that we probably deal with ourselves at some point in our lives, but can seem especially bad as a teen or young adult. I don't think anyone can ever express the relief you can feel at reading a book where a character is coping with the same thing you're coping with, feeling the same thing you're feeling. When talking about this sort of thing, I tend to bring up Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta. Which, if you haven't read, you absolutely should. I was going through a similar, albeit far from identical situation as Francesca in this novel, and reading it did, and still does, make me feel better. This book makes me feel less alone, less sad, less angry. It helps me accept my feelings and my situation, helps me cope better and leaves me to feel there is light at the end of the tunnel. This is the power of Contemporary YA in particular, though I would never say that no other form of fiction contains it.

Even if you're not going through the same situation as the characters in the book, reading about theirs, sharing their pain and experiences can be cathartic in itself. I haven't experienced what Harper in Saving June had, for example, but I could identify with her through her narration and that has a special sort of power in itself.

How do you guys feel about this? Do you think Contemporary fiction is better placed to help us, or do you think all fiction can? Is there a particular book that you read in the right place at the right time that's stayed with you, or one you go back to whenever you're in need of some comfort or reassurance? 

And on a lighter note, Liz will be gushing over her favourite contemporary YA book covers over at her blog today, so be sure to check that out!


  1. I agree completely! I think reading about characters who have perhaps experienced similar things (or even are just feeling the same things) to you definitely helps a lot, even if they aren't real. It doesn't matter that they aren't real, because clearly whoever wrote the book in the first place knew what they were talking about, and that in itself is a comforting fact. One of my favourite quotes is "We read to know that we are not alone" (C. S. Lewis) and I think contemp fiction does a good job of making you feel like you're not alone :).

  2. Couldn't have said it better myself, Cait. This is why I love contemporary fiction. Specifically YA contemp. And, like you said, even if you don't have the same issues as the MC, there's still something cathartic about reading about them.

  3. I think all fiction can help us. On one hand, I loved reading North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley - it, as you said, made me feel less lonely and isolated as I read about another girl who was going through similar experiences. But I feel like you can also find these kind of things dealt with in other novels. In the Bloodlines series by Richelle Mead, Sydney is dealing with weight and self confidence issues in a way that I don't think I would have appreciated if I read an entire book devoted to it, and also in a way that makes me relate to her more. And there are definitely some contemporary YA novels that are good reads (i.e. Anna & the French Kiss), but I can't see anyone turning to them any more so than other non-contemp novels.

  4. I love this post a lot, Cait! I think - for me - contemporary books have gripped me harder in emotional ways. I can think of the MOST emotional books I've read and savored in the last year and they're mostly contemps. There's just something about the genre that tends to lend itself to more introspection on the part of the characters, bigger realizations, and more healing...which is all part of why I love YA contemporary so much! I never realized until I started reading more in this genre how beautiful and inspiring so many of the books are.

  5. I completely agree with everything you said, Cait! While paranormal was the genre that got me into reading, I read a variety of genres and contemporary is definitely one of my favourites. Contemporary represents real life and even though it's nice to escape into 'another' world, it's great to be able to read something that I can completely relate to because they can also happen in life.

    Anyway, awesome post, Cait! ♥ Thank you for sharing this with us!

  6. Very well written post!! I think that all books have the potential to help us in some way, but contemporaries are very real so I think it's much easier to take in the issues and relate to them. Even though you see a lot of the same issues in other genres, it's not really the focus so I think a lot of the issues get lost under all of the other things going on.

  7. CAIT. You nailed this post. I absolutely agree that contemporary probably teaches us more than other genres. Other's have taught me plenty of things and the likes of Harry Potter have imparted so many lessons onto me over the years. But nothing quite beats a contemporary, where you can really relate to the situation the character is dealing with. Whether to show you that you're not alone, help you deal with your own turbulent emotions, enable you to see things from a different perspective in your own life, etc. I just love how you can find characters and issues that mirror your own or, as you mentioned with Saving June, you're able to identify through the narration. LOVE that book, by the way.

    Off the top of my head, I remember feeling quite a connection with Good Oil by Laura Buzo. I read it when I was a few years older than the protagonist, but her situation and feelings were so similar to mine a that age. It was kind of satisfying, very nostlagic and brought up a lot of my own memories and emotions. So I love when a book can do that. FANTASTIC post!


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