Will contemporary YA make a comeback? (Meet Callie Kingston.)

Please welcome author Callie Kingston to the blog to talk about her new YA release, Undertow – a contemporary novel in which a young woman finds a terrible choice thrust upon her: overcome the pain in her past and the dangers which lurk in her mind, or succumb to these and be lost forever inside a beautiful dream.

Laura, thank you so much for inviting me to join your blog and do a guest post as part of the Undertow blog tour. As you know, my new novel touches on some pretty serious themes, including mental illness, child abuse, and alcoholism. It also happens to include a merman, albeit one that is possibly a figment of Marissa’s imagination. There’s an intentional juxtaposition of the paranormal with a gritty realism in Undertow. Lots of readers have asked where my idea for such an unusual plot was generated. And do I worry, that among shelves filled with paranormal romances, Marissa’s story would be lost?

It’s a legitimate concern. When I walked into Borders shortly before it closed, I cruised over to the Young Adult section. Judging from the shelves, ninety percent of novels for young people involve vampires. Or fairies. Or are set in a post-apocalyptic world circa 1984. Now, all of that is great. Many of the books are fabulous reads. But is that all there is?

I’ve blogged about this before. It seems that as the economy tanked, and publishers and bookstores came under increasing pressure from e-books, they started chasing last years’ success stories. Twilight and Hunger Games were blockbusters, and if they could replicate those, maybe they’d keep their business afloat a while longer. Unfortunately, diversity in the genre fell by the wayside as a result, with contemporary novels suffering the greatest casualties.

Many write that contemporary YA is a tough sell, that young girls just want to escape reality, not read about it. And Marissa, the protagonist in Undertow would be among that group. With Undertow, I’d set out to answer the question: What if the luscious mythical creature that was the object of her desire might not actually exist?

And last summer, something happened that made me believe that readers may well be ready to share Marissa’s journey. I blogged about the event: “. . . #YAsaves burned up the web with folks tweeting about all the ways that realistic young adult literature helps teens feel heard and not alone. This was in response to an . . . op-ed piece disguised at journalism in the Wall Street Journal. The journalist went on an all-out rant about how gritty and evil YA is today, and recommended some throw back reads instead. Lots of teens jumped in with heartbreaking stories, authors weighed in with their own tales . . .”

Later, one blogger posted a survey she’d conducted with her class of sixteen year olds, asking them what they wanted to read. Here’s the list:

  1. Sexuality.
  2. Relationships and friendships.
  3. Social power.
  4. Social responsibility
  5. Bullying
  6. Risk taking
  7. Belief system
  8. Freedom
  9. Anger
  10. Multiculturalism

So there’s definitely a market for contemporary YA with plots which feature serious issues. And fortunately, there are plenty of authors, including myself, writing stories to meet that desire. I hope that readers will enjoy accompanying Marissa on her journey and love hearing from them about how her experiences resonate with them.

Thanks Callie for stopping by!

Purchase on Amazon (Undertow is part of KDP Direct so can be downloaded free if you’re a prime member.)

So what do you think everyone – will contemporary YA make a comeback? I keep hearing it will but….wondering when that will happen.

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46 Responses to Will contemporary YA make a comeback? (Meet Callie Kingston.)

  1. Sarah Pearson February 29, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    What editors think teens want to read, and what teens want to read aren’t always the same thing. I love chocolate, but I couldn’t eat only that. Sometimes I want cake too 🙂

    • Laura February 29, 2012 at 11:55 am #

      Great analogy. There are lots of different kinds of teen readers out there, just like with adults.

      • Callie Kingston February 29, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

        Thank goodness we don’t have to eat just chocolate! I personally adore white cake with pink frosting. And coconut cake. Viva la difference!


  2. Kris February 29, 2012 at 11:01 am #

    ::raises hand and waves it vigorously::

    I actually think contemporary fiction is the one category that truly doesn’t ever go away…even if it isn’t getting all the attention that some of the dystopians and paranormals are. It’s always there, hovering in the background.

    I believe there are always going to be kids looking to read good books that reflect real life–sometimes they’ll see themselves in a character like Katniss…but sometimes it might be Lola from Stephanie Perkins Lola and the Boy Next Door, a great contemp YA from 2011.

    Good luck to Callie and her book–it sounds great!

    • Laura February 29, 2012 at 11:56 am #

      I agree, Kris. Contemporary is always there and will always have their fan base. Not everyone like to read paranormal and fantasy. I hope it continues to grow stronger!

    • Callie Kingston February 29, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

      I do like the timeless nature of many contemporary stories. The Bell Jar and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden are two “old” novels with similar themes to Undertow which still touch readers today.


  3. Sophia Richardson February 29, 2012 at 11:40 am #

    I actually read three YA contemporaries this weekend (and I’m someone who leans toward the fantastic): Like Mandarin, The Fault in Our Stars, and Anna and the French Kiss. The second is a NYT bestseller, the latter has been called the best romance so often that it might as well be. I don’t think the genre has anything to worry about.

    • Laura February 29, 2012 at 11:59 am #

      I really liked Anna and The French Kiss. And I do want to read Like Mandarin – the writing in the sample was terrific. And when I’m up to being sad, I’ll read John Green’s latest. 🙂

    • Callie Kingston February 29, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

      Those are on my TBR list. I’m especially excited to read The Fault in Our Stars.


  4. Laura Marcella February 29, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

    Sure, why not? Trends come and go and that’s true in the book world, too. YA is so popular right now, and I do hear some grumblings about how overdone supernatural and dystopian is becoming in the YA market. I wouldn’t be surprised if contemporary is the next big thing.

    • Laura February 29, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

      That’s what people keep saying – I hope for all the contemporary writers out there that’s it’s true!

    • Callie Kingston February 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

      I hope you’re right, Laura!


  5. christine danek February 29, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    I think there is something for everyone, and to be honest, YA contemporaries are all I’ve seen lately.
    Like Sarah mentioned–what they want and what they read can be different.

    • Callie Kingston February 29, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

      Chris, it does seem like there are always great novels in every genre. Bookstores don’t always reflect the diversity. I think stocking a predominance of certain types of books is part of what did Borders in last year.


  6. Stina Lindenblatt February 29, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    I’m getting tired of all the same old same old in YA paranormals. I enjoy YA contempts (I bought another one the other day), but I prefer my stories to have more action to them. Now I’m leaning more towards YA books with thrills (thrillers, horror, suspense).

    • Callie Kingston February 29, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

      That’s great to hear, Stina! I agree, and my WIP is definitely more action-oriented.


      • Laura February 29, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

        I’ve gotten to the point that I don’t care about the genre. I long for a story that resonates with me emotionally and is well written. If it does that, I’ll read it.

  7. Louise February 29, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    I think that very soon, the glut of paranormal and dystopian on the market will become evident even to editors. I’ve been hearing lots of “Oh great, ANOTHER dystopian” from people, which leads me to suspect that soon it will trickle up to editors’ ears.

    The beauty of contemporary YA is that the plot possibilities and character developments are endless in variety. After a while, all dystopians or paranormals start reading alike – there’s only so much one can do as a variation on those themes. Which is why, in the end, I think contemporary YA is, in fact, more timeless even than those stories set out of time!

    (And all this is said as a lifelong fantasy fan, regardless of age range!)

    • Callie Kingston February 29, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

      Louise, I do love the expansiveness of the contemporary genre, and although I love a great dystopian or paranormal story as well, I think you’re right about the dangers of the plot lines becoming too similar in a glutted market.


  8. Alex J. Cavanaugh February 29, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    Everything goes in phases so I’m sure it will!

    • Callie Kingston February 29, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

      True, like the phases of the moon. I actually believe that the changing marketplace (where the bulk of novels are purchased online via Amazon et. al.) will accommodate greater diversity. Fans exist for every genre, and need more access than many brick-and-mortar bookstores offered.


    • Laura February 29, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

      And Alex, I think sci-fi is on the rise too! Though fans of that genre run deep and are devoted – or so it seems!

  9. Laurel Garver February 29, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    I agree with others who’ve noted that contemporary, realistic stories are usually thought of as anti-trendy, sort of the bread and butter that holds the center of the genre. Paranormal has come and gone, dystopian has come (and is waning), SciFi is on the rise, and will likely see its star wane at some time too. Meanwhile, real life goes on with new complexities real kids face, and writers will keep producing books about them. Most publishers keep open slots for realistic, even if fewer of them…

    • Callie Kingston February 29, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

      Laurel, I agree that their seems to be a cyclical nature to art. Witness the bevy of comic book adaptations in movies over the last few years. I suspect that will wane soon as well.


  10. Ghenet Myrthil February 29, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    As a contemporary YA writer, I’m happy to hear teens want to read realistic stories. I think trends will come and go, but real life stories that teens can relate to will always be needed.

    Congrats Callie on the release of your book! The premise sounds really interesting and I love the cover.

    • Callie Kingston February 29, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

      Thanks Ghenet. Good luck with your manuscript. Love your website, BTW, and am also a fan of soy chai.


  11. Emy Shin February 29, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

    Like Laurel, I believe that contemp is the staple of YA. Trends tend to come and go, but contemps are always there.

    • Callie Kingston February 29, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

      Sort of like potatoes. They never go out of style, do they?


  12. Patti February 29, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

    I think diversity in all things is good. My shelves are filled with YA fantasy, thriller, dystopia and contemp.

    Last year I went on a dystopia kick, but when I needed a break from it found myself reaching for Contemporary book. I think there’s room for everything.

    • Callie Kingston February 29, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

      Absolutely! You’d find every style of novel on my shelves, and my Kindle. Except possibly western; never really got into that genre. My collection is a bit light on horror as well–just not my thing.


  13. Laura February 29, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

    I agree Patti. There is room for everything!

    And thanks for Callie for interacting with all of us!

  14. Margo Berendsen February 29, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

    I know my teenager likes a mix of paranormal, dystopian and contemp, – and the older she gets the more she’s drawn to the contemp. That’s a very interesting list, thank you Callie for sharing. (I copied it for reference)

    • Callie Kingston February 29, 2012 at 10:49 pm #

      I’m glad the list was useful, Margo. I think it’s also a good point; as teens get a little older, they often reach out to explore the stories of other young adults in the real world.


  15. Kelly Polark February 29, 2012 at 11:27 pm #

    I love contemporary YA. And I think readers like a variety. No one (okay, not everyone) wants to only read dysopian or only vampire books. I love those types of books, but I want other kinds too.

    • Callie Kingston March 10, 2012 at 4:43 am #

      I actually enjoy reading across the spectrum, and tend to read particular genres in spurts. This reflects in my writing as well. My current project includes more paranormal elements.


  16. ali cross March 1, 2012 at 12:01 am #

    Beautiful cover. Congrats on your book Callie!

    I think there will always be a market for YA contemporary. It’s not my usual genre, but I love to read it. Not everyone is into magic and paranormal stuff.

    • Callie Kingston March 10, 2012 at 4:41 am #

      Thanks Ali! I agree; there’s room for all genres. Diverse titles encourage more young people to read.


  17. Traci Kenworth March 1, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    I love a diversity as well. Whatever tickles my fancy at the moment…

  18. Christina Lee March 1, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

    Wow what a list– I love contemp (a mix of all kinds is what the makes the world go round). Love that title and cover!

    • Callie Kingston March 10, 2012 at 4:44 am #

      Thanks Christina! I was amazed by the list, too.


  19. Karen Strong March 1, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    I think that YA contemp is definitely going to make a comeback. I’m actually getting drained with all the dystopian currently out so I would love to hear a compelling voice. UNDERTOW has a great premise.

    • Callie Kingston March 10, 2012 at 4:46 am #

      Dystopian is great, but you’re right–the market seems a bit saturated. Still, a fabulous story can still stand out, and that’s true in every genre.


  20. Heather Sunseri March 2, 2012 at 12:43 am #

    I sure hope YA Comtemporary makes a comeback, because I so enjoy good contemporary romances.

    • Callie Kingston March 10, 2012 at 4:47 am #

      I couldn’t agree more, Heather. And I know we have great company.


  21. Leslie Rose March 5, 2012 at 4:19 am #

    At the end of the day, I vote for the relatable tale. Contemporary hits that note.

    • Callie Kingston March 10, 2012 at 4:51 am #

      That’s a great point. I hadn’t considered that aspect before, but you’re right. Contemporary really focuses on plots and circumstances that are very real, and by extension, it’s easy to imagine ourselves experiencing the characters’ lives.


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