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