An Insight into Young Adult Fantasy
Young adult fantasy is a genre readily enjoyed by readers of all ages despite its name. Just look at recent books that have shot to stardom like the Harry Potter series, or The Hunger Games, or The Mortal Instruments. Books for teens have exploded into the limelight, turning adults into rabid fans as well. However, at the heart of the genre the themes relating to the lives of young adults, even in a fantasy setting, is key.
Like any genre there are pros and cons to it and those may differ depending on if you are a reader or an author, or both. A big pro would be the amount of material out there. There are a lot of YA fantasy books. Also, lot of variety if you add in the sub or side genres and then you have reading gold. A big con… this also gives authors and readers a lot to wade in and through to either find the right book or have your book found.
Readers can expect a lot of variety and there are two different takes on what angle YA fantasy (or even other genres… mystery, horror, supernatural, you name it) can approach the reader. Both approaches work well on their own merits. Either you can make the characters teens, like Harry Potter, and have their coming of age antics spur character and plot growth, or you can make the book readable by teens (think age appropriate themes, pg13), but have the characters more mature…act, react, and behave in far more adult scenarios (Think The Hunger Games). Of course, there is no 100% black and white on this, but most if not all books I’ve read fall into either of these angles. The commonality between them, especially in a fantasy setting, appears to be the slower march along the plot and a lighter introduction of details. You won’t find ten pages describing a chair in a house in YA anything. Teens, and even adults, just might not have the patience/attention span. Even The Hobbit may be too wordy for some of today’s teens.
Meshing the young adult themes with fantasy themes is richly rewarding for both the author and the reader. Fantasy by definition, has no boundaries. If you can imagine it, you can write or read it. Zombies, aliens, angels, witches, dystopian society, you name it, are all accessible to YA readers in a fantasy setting (for clarity, fantasy can also be linked to science fiction! Think Star Wars). However, when I study the YA fantasy books popular today I’ve noticed another binding element, realism.
Realistic fantasy has nothing to do with the idea that everything in the book must be real. There are loads of people who’d love to pet a unicorn, but not seen that yet. Realism in fantasy has everything to do with taking that fantasy world, whatever it is, and making it plausible, a seamless integration of the reader into the unreal world. This means fleshing out a world/universe to great detail, yet getting it across to the reader in ten pages or less (remember the chair?). Culture, religions, environment, races, music, writing, architecture, science, history, you name it. This is a difficult job for a YA fantasy author. The good ones do it very well and the great ones make rabid fans out of everyone.
Realism must also apply to characters and sliding into stereotypes and clichés is a pit of no return. Is it out there? Yes. Is it avoidable? Yes. Is it always realistic to avoid it? Nope. It’s up to the YA fantasy author to walk that line and walk it well so that the stereotypes and clichés do not overpower the plot and characters to the point of eye rolling and mic dropping. A great example of a stereotype that worked well is Hermione in Harry Potter as the nerdy-fact-bookish geek. Her role in Harry Potter was obvious. Give Harry (and the other ‘good guys’) the means to an end. Rowling kept Hermione from being eye roll worthy by giving her other roles to fill and other needs as a character. She evolved into a strong, independent, woman that could kick serious butt as well as memorize all the spells Ron needed for class.
Another side of realism is just how real to portray teens when they are the main characters/focus of the story. Drugs. Sex. Alcohol. Abuse. Gangs. Lies. Foul language. Cheating, etc. No one, even teens, denies those exist in our world. Some read fantasy to escape those realities and some read those realities because that is what can and does happen with teens in our world. There is a subtle divide on just how far to portray reality, especially in other genres and it is up to the reader and author to decide where the line is to be drawn. Should realistic portrayals of cultural and societal behaviors exist. Yes. Should it be forced onto a reader or author who doesn’t want it? No. Know that including such realisms is a personal choice as an author, and depending on what type of fantasy you are writing, it might not even be an issue.
In the end, YA fantasy is a thriving, vital part of the bookish world. The genre fills a need of teens (and adults) for age, character, and plot appropriate stories in a fantastical, but believable setting.
Biography: Cheryl S. Mackey
Cheryl lives in Southern California with her husband and 2 sons. Her books The Unknown Sun and The Immortals parts 1 and 2 are both young adult fantasy and available at Amazon.
She has a MFA in Creative Writing and enjoys games, reading and, of course, writing. She currently has a flash fiction story published online at The Prompt Magazine.
Her favorite genres to write and read is YA Fantasy closely followed by YA Paranormal and she would love to dabble in Sci Fi, Steam Punk, and Dystopian.