I met with Professor Laura Nicosia on Monday (2/6) and we discussed my independent project. She and I went over some good secondary source material for this project, and then came up with a few ideas on how to start surveying the current climate in Young Adult literature. Some of my goals by the end of this meeting included identifying patterns in both content and marketing of YA literature. In addition to reading current and classic YA novels for Professor Nicosia’s course at Montclair State, I will be looking at actual “Young Adult” sections at local bookstores and assessing the same section of local library collections.
Today I went to Barnes and Noble in Stamford, CT. This is my hometown, and it also happens to house one of the largest Barnes and Nobles in New England. I heard somewhere it’s actually the largest on the East Coast… but I don’t think that’s true.
Regardless of rank it is rather sizable so I thought it would be a good place to start my research. I brought my 16 year old sister, Caitlin. Some important information about her: she is not what one would call an Avid Reader. She doesn’t like Harry Potter, and got over Twilight about three years ago. Currently, she is listening to The Hunger Games series on audio book, because she wants to read them before the movies start coming out and swears she has no time to sit down and read. I did not expect her to have much interest in the topic of YA literature, but she went ahead and surprised me throughout our visit.
We started by looking at the section as a whole; into what genres the section broke down, what titles were featured and which were hidden away. We tried to see whether there was a distinct break between books marketed towards boys and girls. The “Fantasy and Adventure” section seemed to feature more masculine titles and covers, where the “Paranormal Romance” was definitely geared towards girls. The rest of the section was more difficult to define, however if the books did seem gender-targeted it was almost always towards girls. Many covers had girls or young women on them, sometimes just their faces or legs. Several of the titles had sexualized covers, which actually turned my sister off of them completely. She commented on this, telling me that she was tired of “teen romance” stories because they’re all the same, and that sexualized covers like these sent a message she wasn’t interested in hearing. I asked her what other kinds of books turned her off based on the cover, to which she responded “anything that’s obviously trying to be something else.”
This copycat marketing is running rampant through YA lit, to the point where classics like Romeo and Juliet and Pride and Prejudice have brand new covers that make them look more like the Twilight series, and getting blurbs that tie them to Bella and Edward’s love story. Most of the paranormal romance section had dark covers featuring black and red color schemes, though that can be attributed as much to the subject matter as the success of the Twilight series. Another trend is emerging of simple covers with an emblem or object, mimicking the Hunger Games series. There was an endcap display featuring books like the Hunger Games, and another for books like Bloodrose. This copycat marketing is very obvious at Barnes and Noble.
The theme of the day became a search for original, interesting books. As we searched, my sister commented on something I hadn’t considered—balance between positive and negative elements of teenage life in literature. “Life doesn’t always suck when you’re a teenager.” She commented after picking up three books in a row about how hard it is to be a member of the Young Adult age group. After rejecting a handful of bright pink and yellow books, several books with kissing or half-naked couples on the cover, and a copy of Romeo and Juliet tauting itself as “the original forbidden love” with a black cover and a singular red and white flower, I handed her a copy of Uglies, the first in Scott Westerfeld’s series by the same name. Her response was just “whoa”.
We had been in the store for almost two hours. I decided to ask Caitlin, if she had to choose five books to buy immediately which five would she choose. She decided on the following:
The Hunger Games—Inspired by the upcoming movie, the books’ popularities in general, and the fact that she has enjoyed the parts she has read already.
Uglies—Due to the fact that, as Caitlin said, the book has a “different” plot than what she usually sees, and the main storyline is not a romance.
The Looking Glass Wars—Caitlin had never heard of steampunk before, so this book appealed to her because it was a new genre to her, and because we met some people in the Adventure section who recommended this specific title.
Fairest of All—First of all this book has the Wicked Witch from Disney’s Snow White on the cover. Second, it is a story told from the villain’s point of view, another storyline that we do not see that often.
The Alice Series, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor—this is a series our other sister Ali used to read when she was younger, and Caitlin likes that they come in volumes which are bigger than the average YA novel, which Caitlin said is sometimes too short.
Final thoughts: I don't know that either Caitlin or myself noticed that every book she chose (except Fairest of All) is part of a series... It's very difficult to define the YA genre without breaking it down into subgenres, which break down into sub-sub-genres, which break into.... anyhow. This is definitely not a one-trip process. You will be hearing from us again soon!
Saturday I will continue my updates with an early bibliography and my adventures in YA criticism.