Wednesday 25 January 2012

Contemp YA Month: How Hannah Mariska Discovered Contemporary YA

Up today is Hannah Mariska, a fellow book blogger who hosts at My Book Journey. Enjoy!

In the past few years, my reading habits have increasingly tended towards the paranormal side of the Young Adult market, and often when I visited a bookshop or library, I would give contemporary YA a contemptuous sniff. I just didn’t quite understand what was so different or special about it. As I started picking up contemporary YA books for the first time a few months ago, I really thought that I would miss the vampires, witches and werewolves and feel like something was lacking from ‘normal’ YA stories. But the more I read, the more I came to realise that by relying less on magical theories, supernatural mysteries and paranormal gifts, contemporary YA authors work a lot harder developing their characters to make the story feel true to life and genuine.

I was amazed at the different characters that I came across, from those that I could really relate to like Bea from Nobody’s Girl who had an overprotective mother and trouble standing up for herself, to the characters whose backgrounds were quite far removed from mine, like in Kill All Enemies whose characters were entrenched in violence and family neglect. When Bea first faced up to the mean girls I practically jumped with joy, but I also came to understand those characters different from me and why they bullied others, hated school or generally made trouble. Seeing what their family lives were really like was truly heartbreaking and sad.

Whether I’ve been reading debut authors or well established authors, all of the characters felt very real because they had flaws, they made mistakes and sometimes the wrong decision. With a fair amount of paranormal YA the characters often seem glossed over; the female protagonists are generally good looking, their boyfriends are gorgeous and charmingly nice. There may be the odd skeleton in the closet or family issue, but these aren’t usually central to the story and therefore aren’t at the forefront of the plot or the character's thoughts. In fact, the types of problems the protagonists face aren’t usually ones we can necessarily relate to. Well, I’ve never been bitten by a vampire or had to learn how to control my magical powers (I’m still waiting in hope though!).

The issues that are touched upon in contemporary YA stories are often heartbreaking, complex and serious, although they can also be inspiring and motivating. From drug use, prostitution, family abuse and living in care, these issues reflect what happens behind closed doors in our own neighbourhoods, but that we rarely see. What’s more, the way you get to understand why the characters are the way they are makes you realise that sometimes people’s lives aren’t always in their control, such as Candy who spiralled little by little from a nice middle class family into a world of heroin addiction and prostitution without realising it was even happening. I’ve certainly had my eyes opened and will be more appreciative of what someone might be dealing with in their private lives before I start judging them.

But it hasn’t all been doom and gloom - I’ve also read about some really cool places and things like travelling across South America in Wanderlove, making cakes in The Sweetest Thing, kissing on Paris’ Pont Neuf in Nobody’s Girl, and living in a sustainable yurt in This Girl is Different.

None of these books though has been predictable or boring. They have all been eye opening, refreshingly different and honestly true to real life. So next time I’m browsing the shelves for something to read I certainly won’t be passing over contemporary YA for its paranormal counterparts.

Thanks, Hannah!



  1. Wonderful post, with some great recommendations. Thank you very much!

  2. What a wonderful post Hannah! Because I read a lot of contemporary books, whenever I read a bunch of paranormal books in a row I sometimes feel a little overwhelmed with the drama and theatrics that come with it. These are some great books you've recommended! I'm especially looking forward to reading Candy as Kevin Brooks is another of my favourite authors that I've just discovered recently..


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