Don’t look back, you’re not going that way.
Good advice. The only purpose of reflecting on the past is seeing how far you’ve gone – and using this to plan ahead. In short, looking for patterns.
You could say I am cheating by looking at the reviews I’ve done since March 2012 – or you could be kind and say it gives better data. Either way, in an entirely anecdotal and unscientific manner, I’m going to extrapolate some trends I think are happening in fiction for young people. I’m sticking to the ones I like because I can – and there’s enough gloom out there thank you very much.
Doh a deer, a female deer… Where to start? My first review – Mister Creecher. This contains two themes I enjoy: metafiction and Victoriana. Just so I’m making myself clear, my definition of metafiction is literature that consciously refers to previous writing. So Chris Priestley using Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s creature from Frankenstein is precisely what I mean. It doesn’t have to be serious – the joyful Goth Girl books play merrily with clever references to all sorts of writing. But it works best of all when the allusions add depth to the story – such as in Whitstable and The Last of the Spirits. This trend rewards readers who have a good track record.
Victoriana is definitely a thing. I love it. It’s so wide – from ‘steampunk’ fun like Etiquette & Espionage to eerie mysteries such as Frost Hollow Hall and The Visitors. Strictly speaking, the Penny Dreadful series by Christopher Edge are set in the Edwardian era – but that kind of world-building is the draw. You can get lost in it.
Which brings me to my next theme – fabulously different worlds. Such a range - Yangsze Choo’s Ghost Bride, Candy Gourlay’s Shine and Jepp who defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh – use actual times and places in new and unusual ways. Sometimes the quality of writing is part of that world too – often challenging to read and a bit ‘marmite’ – but frequently worth it. Try Railsea, the Skyscraper Throne Trilogy, or anything by Frances Hardinge and Catherynne M. Valente if you’re feeling adventurous.
One trend I am sure many different kinds of reader will enjoy is the return of illustration. Oh, the fun of Oliver and the Seawigs or Fortunately the Milk is not merely doubled but squared by the design work. I want to cheer every time I see good production values: they can be for older readers too. Hoorah for graphic novels like Clockwork Angel, or sheer uncategorisable loveliness like The Sleeper and the Spindle.
Finally, the controversial theme – the dark and uncompromising stories. I accept these are not to everyone’s taste, but I defend their right to be written. The point of the best ones – like Tinder, The Killing Woods, Amity and Sorrow or Bone Jack, is that they do not patronise the young reader. The world has many dark places and to pretend it’s all like Disneyland, especially to teens, is ridiculous.
Robert Schumann: "To send light into the darkness of men's hearts - such is the duty of the artist."
So I wonder if publishing in 2015 will carry on with these trends. Will there be more metafiction, wonderful artwork, Victoriana, diversity and darkness? Will something utterly new take over? As they say, read on to find out…