Exploring the Relationships Between Young Adult and Crime Fiction
Kelley Armstrong is no stranger to Young Adult or Crime Fiction, and Life Is Short and Then You Die—a new anthology that she edited—combines both genres, proving they are not mutually exclusive. Learn more about YA and comment for a chance to win a copy of the anthology!
I’ve been writing young adult fiction since 2008—the height of the Twilight craze—and I often hear new writers being told that certain genres won’t sell in YA. This is particularly true of mystery fiction, and I strongly disagree because the very nature of the teen audience means there is a market for every well-told story.
Watching YA over the years, I’ve been astounded by how open that audience is to different ways of telling a story, particularly in narration and format. First-person narration was the norm in YA before it became widely accepted in adult fiction. Present-tense and second-person narration are still far more common in books for teens. Those readers will also happily pick up graphic and verse novels in a way I don’t see with mainstream adult readers.
The younger the reader, the less concerned they seem to be with “how” a story is told. This first really struck me years ago, when my daughter read a YA novel after I did, and in discussing it, I admitted I found the present-tense jarring until the story swept me away. She said “It’s in present tense? I never even noticed.” I’d noticed it from the first paragraph because, by my age, my brain has come to expect certain conventions in novels, including past-tense narration. When a story varies from that, and I balk. My daughter—having not yet solidified those conventions in her mind—only noticed the story.
I believe the same principle applies to genre. YA saw a huge upswing with Twilight. My daughter was just entering adolescence at the time, and we watched as the single YA shelf in our local bookstore turned into two shelves, and then a whole aisle, and then multiple aisles plus tables as teens latched onto first Harry Potter and then Twilight.
When young adult fiction took off, publishers wanted more of the genre was selling: fantasy. I don’t blame them. The market wanted it, too. I remember signing store stock and watching a woman plunk down over $100 on YA hardcovers. Her daughter loved Twilight so now Mom went to the bookstore and said “give me everything like that, please.” Parents everywhere saw their children finally reading and, to encourage it, they got them “more like that,” from libraries and bookstores.
Read an excerpt of “In Plain Sight” by Y.S. Lee, one of the stories from Life Is Short and Then You Die!
While teens may have wanted “more like that,” I believe their definition of “like that” was often wider than parents and publishers realized. My own vampire-free paranormal young adult found a huge audience, as did fairies, trolls and everything in between. So did teen romances, fantasy, science fiction and more. What they were looking for transcended genre. It was a duplication of experience—I want to feel that way again, swept up in a story.
There has always been a teen market for mystery. I grew up reading Hardy Boys and then transitioning into Lois Duncan. The trick is that mysteries for teens can’t simply be the same book we’d read as adults, but with teenage characters. They require more. Complex relationships, for one. Yes, most successful YA includes a central romance, but that’s just one type of relationship, and teen readers appreciate them all: friends, family, enemies, allies. A mystery may be at the center of the novel, but in YA, it functions mostly as a way of exploring and revealing relationships. They also want the fun stuff: secrets, action, and plenty of twists and turns.
While teen readers may have a favorite genre, they’re usually open to sampling new ones, in hopes of expanding their bookshelf. It’s a matter of focusing on stories that matter to them, and not just trying to capture a popular market by making teen versions of adult fiction. Give teens what they’re looking for, and you can build a loyal readership, whatever the genre.
Life Is Short and Then You Die is the Mystery Writers of America’s first teen anthology, edited by #1 New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong.
Adolescence is a time of “firsts.” First kiss. First love. First loss. First job. The first taste of adult responsibilities, and the first look at an independent life away from both the restrictions and the security of home.
And in this case, a very different type of “first”: murder.
This short story collection of murder mysteries adds a sinister spin to the joy and pain of firsts that have always been a major part of life, whether it be high school cliques who take the term “backstabbing” too seriously, stumbling upon a body on the way home from school, or receiving a Snapchat message that promises something deadly.
Contributors include Barry Lyga, Caleb Roehrig, Emmy Laybourne, Jonathan Maberry, R.L. Stine, Rachel Vincent, Y.S. Lee, Anthony Franze, Barry Lancet, and more!
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