February 21, 2011

Find the Gap: Concepts

This is the 4th "Find the Gap" post (the previous ones discussed what's missing in YA in terms of settings, characters, and breaking stereotypes) and this week the topic is concepts. Often books really grab my attention when the premise or plot of the novel involves a neat concept. Perhaps the magic system in the fantasy world works differently than any other I've read. Maybe it's a mystery told from the end to the beginning, and the reader must unravel what has happened.  I'd like to see YA books get shaken up a bit with some fresh ideas — even a small twist on an "overdone" premise can make it feel totally different!

So here are some concepts I think it would be fun to see done more in YA books:

- Parallel lives: these are done lots more in movies than in books, and I'm not sure why. Think something like the film "Sliding Doors." Wouldn't it be awesome to read two different storylines with the same character and see how their lives unfold after one crucial turning point? Um, YES. Or how about movies like "Mr. Destiny" or "The Family Man" where the main character gets to see what their life would be like if just one moment in their past had been changed?

Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall sort of approaches this in a way (Sam doesn't live parallel lives, but she lives the same day over and over), and that is a good part of what makes her novel stand out: the entire concept was different than just a straightforward, linear storyline that we typically find.

Alternate histories: there are a few of these in YA (for instance, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld and The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson) but I think there is plenty more fodder for stories here. As discussed in the settings post, there are many time periods that aren't touched upon much in YA — so how about an alternate history for some of those? Why not rewrite the past with a completely different version of events?

- Magical realism: I haven't read many of these, even in adult fiction (although I did really enjoy Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen) but they seem almost non-existent in YA. Wikipedia defines magical realism as "an aesthetic style or genre of fiction in which magical elements are blended into a realistic atmosphere in order to access a deeper understanding of reality. These magical elements are explained like normal occurrences that are presented in a straightforward manner which allows the "real" and the "fantastic" to be accepted in the same stream of thought." Part of what I appreciated in Garden Spells was how closely magic was tied to everyday life — everyone in the story was affected by magic, not in a showy, fireworks kind of way, but much more subtle. I'd love to see this sort of story with a YA protagonist.

- "Contemporary" futuristic stories: I know, sounds like a contradiction in terms, right? My sister suggested this one and I have to agree with her: there really aren't very many YA books that *happen* to be set in the future and yet aren't trying to make some kind of colossal point about what society will be like then. There are plenty of novels detailing a future that either a) is set in a dystopian society, b) is post-apocalyptic, or c) involves a massively dramatic advance in technology. What about a futuristic story that's a little easier to actually visualize coming to pass soon? One that feels like we could really and truly live it in just a few years...

So, a future that *doesn't* look like this.
Or this.

Or even this. Although I must say all the bluish-purple mushroom buildings are pretty cool.

- Unusual genre combinations: some genres seem to go hand-in-hand more often than others. It isn't too hard to find historical mysteries, for instance. Others don't seem to get crossed much, which is a shame, because it could make for some very captivating stories! How about a historical urban fantasy? Or a mystery set in a fantasy world, where the main point is the mystery storyline? A sci-fi set in a past era (excluding 'steampunk,' as that has been on the rise these days)? A dystopian fantasy? One aspect I liked about Andrea Cremer's Nightshade is that it combines paranormal, fantasy, and dystopian elements together in the world-building — but it's not something you come across too often in YA, unfortunately.

What are some concepts or premises you think are missing in YA? Any suggestions of books that fill the gaps I've mentioned? Also, I think this will be my last "Find the Gap" post, unless you guys have another category you'd like to discuss (that doesn't fall under characters, settings, stereotypes, and concepts)?


  1. Colour me crazy, but I haven't read any LGBT love triangles...I'd find that an interesting twist on your norm! Great post, Danya :)

  2. I love the idea of contemporary futuristic stories! It's true, most tend to be dystopia based, or disaster based, but how cool would it be if, I don't know, a boy and a girl met while taking their hoverboards out for a spin LOL. It could be so much fun!
    Now I'm going to see if I can find any books like this :D

  3. YES YES YES to all of these things! I'm also loving the contemporary futuristic stories idea so much. All of these are really great ideas. So many possibilities. And that reminds me that I need to try out some alternate history novels..I've been wanting to read some as it fascinates me. Love this post!

  4. I couldn't agree more on your "contemporary" futuristic stories. I'd definitely like to read a more fun, less dystopian futuristic novel.

  5. I think a parallel lives and alternate history YA novel would be awesome. I love alternate history stories, but they're usually adult books, not that I mind that.

    I love all the new mythology that has surfaced in the last few years. It's always fun to see a new take on more traditional approaches. I think there are some other traditional approaches that could be changed a bit to form something new; I just can't think of any examples at the moment.

  6. Fabulous ideas, Danya! I agree with the 'contemporary futuristic' idea. I'd love to see something that seems a little bit more close and plausible. It would be a nice change from all the wacky dystopian releases. For genre combinations, I think a fairy tale retelling set in the future might be interesing.

  7. @Melissa: Good point! That would certainly be a way to mix up the love triangle scenario (which is admittedly starting to get quite stale, especially in certain genres).

    @Laura: LOL, yes! Exactly - a contemporary kind of story (friendships, romance, family issues, etc.) but set in the future.

    @Jamie: Thanks!! I need to try some more alternate history stories too :)

    @Lady Scribbles: That seems to be a gap that's resonating with several people! So many of the futuristic novels are epic and really dire...like you say, why not something more fun? :)

    @Jenni Elyse: Definitely agree with you, the new mythological retellings are a great trend. And yes, alternate histories do seem to be more common in adult novels but I think it would be fabulous if that could be carried over to YA as well!

    @Stephanie: Oh, great idea! I don't think I've read any fairy tale futuristic retellings...nice!

  8. I really liked your idea for a historical urban fantasy! Well, I liked them all, but that one really grabbed me.

  9. My friend and I were talking fairytale retellings and just adding steampunk elements that would be so awesome. Like steampunk Beauty and the Beast and the like. It would be interesting to just see genre bending stories.

  10. I would so love to see more alternative histories and contemporary futuristic stories in books! I see them all the time in movies or TV episodes, they would be brilliant in a ya book, there are so many possibilities.

  11. I've read the Leviathan series and liked what Scott Westerfeld did with it so would love to see more. What about mashups books? Last year there were a couple mashup books with vampires/zombies mixed in with the literary classics. I haven't read any but it might get the younger generation in picking them up the classics.

  12. @Sharon: Thanks! I think that one really hasn't been done much yet but has definite potential.

    @Najela: Wow, steampunk and fairytale retellings would be so wild! I don't think I've read any like that. Great suggestion!

    @Anna: Yes, they do seem to pop up much more in movies and TV. Not sure why but I agree with you that they would certainly be appealing in a YA book as well!

    @Jenny: Great idea! I haven't read any of the mashups like Pride & Prejudice & Zombies etc. (I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to classics, LOL) but I definitely think that could be a very creative and fun way to expose teens to classics.

  13. I like the idea of parallel lives. I could see that tied in with a love triangle in a way that wouldn't make for an irritating love triangle.

    I also like the idea of mixing genres. I love that there are more historical fiction and magic/fantasy books out there. I want even more.

    I can't think of any other topics for this series, but if you ever think of any, I'd love to read more Find the Gap posts. They're really fun!

  14. @Small Review: Thanks! Ooooh yes a parallel life love triangle would be so much fun :)


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