What is it about The Hunger Games and The 5th Wave franchises that makes everyone scream for more?
By Kimberly Lim
Pour a good dose of teen spirit, rebellion and heroics into a dystopian world and throw in a dash of evil dictators, governments or aliens. Season the concoction with a steamy love triangle, a theme of self-discovery and a tasteful amount of character deaths.
Voila! You have the recipe of a stereotypical successful young adult (YA) novel targeted at 13 to 18-year-olds. Despite the similarities in many of these stories, Blooming Twig discovered that the YA and children’s publishing industry had a net revenue of US$2.87 billion (S$3.91 billion) last year, with adults over the age of 18 contributing to 55% of book sales.
YA novels were initially labelled as silly teenage books but have become one of the most popular genres among people of all ages. There are key features of YA that have got readers from all walks of life gaga over the genre.
Strong Female Protagonists
Traditionally, superheroes are men in masks and dark capes but in the world of YA fiction where anything and everything is possible, the Geena Davis Institute found that 65% of the genre’s protagonists are young women.
This comes as no surprise since female writers such as J.K. Rowling, Veronica Roth, Suzanne Collins and Stephanie Meyer are dominating the genre.
Dr Lim Lee Ching, 42, editor of the Singapore Review of Books, said: “Young adult fiction tends to have a strong female portrayal that is very counter-traditional… That sense of empowerment in terms of how we understand gender roles in the world has its appeal.”
Mrs Julie Lim, 54, an avid YA reader, also believes that because a majority of YA readers are female, they would find the protagonists more relatable, which beckons the question of whether the “chicken or egg” comes first.
Relatable and Understandable
The language and writing style in YA novels are usually easy to grasp but not overly simple, allowing people outside the targeted age range to enjoy them as well. On top of that, YA novels often deal with problems and struggles that teenagers face and authors would weave in themes and lessons that transcend the boundary of age.
David Levithan, author of the bestselling novel Every Day, said in an interview with The Atlantic: “The defining characteristic of YA literature is emotional truth.”
Dr Lim explained that this “emotional truth” is something anyone who has ever been a teenager will be able to relate to, making the genre so popular among various age groups.
A Form of Escapism
Among the many sub-genres of YA fiction, the leading one is dystopia. A study done by Nielsen Bookscan found that sales for YA dystopian novels jumped 150% after the release of The Hunger Games in 2008.
Charlene Chua, 19, a student at Nanyang Technological University, believes that YA novels deal with issues that teenagers face, but are placed in “a more interesting setting”.
Even though most stories are based in far-off lands, the human relationships and characters are still something readers relate to and understand.
Hot Off the Press
New to the young adult genre? Here are some good reads published in the past few years to start with:
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
This high-fantasy novel follows 18-year-old assassin, Celaena Sardothien, as she competes to be the king’s Champion in order to win back her freedom. It is the first book in the 6-book series that unravels to be much more intricate than readers could’ve ever imagined.
Illuminae by Jay Kristoff & Amie Kaufman
A story told through hacked documents like emails, interviews and medical reports. this sci-fi novel is centered around Kady as she struggles to survive after her home planet is destroyed in the year 2575.
Legend by Marie Lu
Loosely inspired by Les Misérables and set in a futuristic dystopian USA, protagonist June is among the elite military circles. When her brother, Metias is murdered and the notorious criminal, Day, is the prime suspect, June sets out to seek revenge.
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Taking place in a world inspired by ancient Russia where people with special abilities are called Grishas, the story revolves around orphan Alina Starkov. She leads an average life until she discovers she has powers unlike any other that could change the fate of her world.
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Elias, the finest soldier in the Martial Empire’s military academy and Laia, a spy for the rebellion disguised as a slave, have vastly different lives. However, they both yearn for freedom from the tyranny of the Empire and their fates will intertwine to change the lives of many.
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
A sci-fi retelling of Cinderella that is set in a futuristic world where humans inhabit both the earth and moon. However, the Earthens and Lunars are on the brink of war and unbeknownst to all is the fact that the world’s future lies in the grease-covered hands of an unassuming part-cyborg girl mechanic named Linh Cinder.