Written by Grant Goodman, 3/2/2015
Today I was wondering what the YA sales charts for Amazon look like in other countries.
I found the best seller page for teen Science Fiction and Fantasy on the Amazon US site, the Amazon UK site and the French site, too.
Let’s check out how they differ.
First, the US site:
It appears that people are really interested in finding out more about this mermaid’s sister. It’s a title I’m not familiar with…and, actually, I don’t recognize two, three, or four. Looks like I have some catching up to do.
My guess is that with the Insurgent movie only three weeks away, those books will all find their way into the top five.
Let’s look at what’s happening in the UK:
It seems that in his native land, Harry Potter is still the king of YA literature. And it seems that they also have taken a shine to the mermaid and her sister. The Hunger Games is selling well and James Dashner has his Maze Runner finale in the top six. The UK site, however, also mixes in children’s books, which is why book number five seems very much out of place.
Finally, to France:
Suzanne Collins is dominating the charts, no question about it. In fifth place is Alain Grousset, a French sci-fi author with a novel about a boy who lives on a tower that is one hundred floors high. In sixth is Christian Grenier, whose book is about two warring clans: one that believes in screens while the other believes in reading and writing. (I hope both of these will make their way to American shelves!)
Written by Grant Goodman, 2/16/2015
Time travel. Rocket ships. Wizards. Dystopias.
You will meet many people in your life who look down on “those kinds of stories.” They are the serious types. They believe in their serious literature.
We can let them believe in that.
They can have their stories about sad people in sad cities. Because, honestly, we read those books, too. Every now and again, we need a palate cleanser, a waystone that lets us step back into our own world.
The deep truth is this: we like other worlds. We like worlds that don’t already exist.
Besides, the biggest milestones of human storytelling tend to be about magic and dystopias.
The Odyssey is full of witches and sea monsters and Cyclops. Beowulf fought a dragon. Shakespeare filled his plays with ghosts and wizards and prophecy. Mary Shelley brought the dead back to life. Jules Verne sent humanity to explore the moon long before John F. Kennedy was born.
Reading fantasy and science-fiction connects us to the roots of the world. The desires to explore and to escape and to imagine are built into us.
That’s why we need Suzanne Collins to send us into the arena. That’s why we need Darren Shan to show us the hidden world of vampires. That’s why Ray Bradbury once wrote, “I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”
So go ahead and dive into sci-fi and fantasy.
But don’t be afraid to dip your toes into realistic fiction, either. There’s excellence to be found there, too.
YA & MLK: Civil Rights and Acceptance
Written by Grant Goodman, 1/19/2015
Today’s holiday is a moment that is marked by hatred and tragedy, triumph and persistence. The fact that human beings had to fight for their right to be considered equal to other humans is something that never ceases to sicken me. The fact that it still continues to this day is downright depressing.
There is hope, though. The idea of fighting for civil rights finds can be found all over the YA canon. The more we read about this topic, even in fiction, the less likely we are to continue the cycle in real life.
I’ll start with the Harry Potter series. In Harry’s world, there is a hierarchy of blood purity that some still follow. To these wizard, pure humans are, of course, the lowest form, but they still reserve their hatred for wizards who are born to fully-muggle parents. The slur word for them, “mudblood,” is one that cuts deep. While there is no de-facto protest movement in the Harry Potter novels, there is still the matter of these wizards standing up for themselves.
Since Mockingjay Part I is still in theaters, let’s go ahead and examine the Hunger Games trilogy. The citizens of Panem, those who reside in the poorer districts, are all enslaved. They are fenced in, cut off, under curfew, and subjected to cruel and unusual punishment by those in charge. Regardless of skin color, the residents of the lower districts are marginalized, demonized, and broken by the existing social structure of their world.
There are the people of Ishval in Hiromu Arakawa’s manga, Fullmetal Alchemist, whose homeland is taken over by a mighty military. The Smokies in Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies are yet another persecuted group. Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series has its skaa. And while few people have read it, I have always loved Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Eye of the Heron for its amazing story of a space colony caught up in its own civil rights movement.
The worlds of YA mirror our own in many ways. There are tales of oppression, messages about “the other” and the ways in which they are ostracized, stories of interplanetary love. They all come to the same conclusion: hatred for your fellow man (or alien or cyborg or ghost or robot) is one of the universe’s darkest traits. We will always explore these conflicts, because our own sad history is rife with them. One of the best ways to deal with it—to learn to move forward—is to familiarize yourself with the struggles of others so you can empathize with them. That way, when it’s time to figure out what is right, you’ll know where you need to stand.
Destiny and Prophecy in YA
Written by Grant Goodman, 12/2/2014
A recurring feature element in fantasy literature is the prophecy. You know how it goes. Some soothsayer foretold a terrible fate or a cataclysmic event and then the heroes set out to prove that prophecy isn’t guaranteed.
Rick Riodan’s series all rely on prophecy to fuel them. In Riordan’s defense, the Greeks and Romans actually relied on prophecies. They had their oracles who communicated mysterious messages from the gods. They also had augurs to read the signs of nature. (This is evident in Homer’s Odyssey, when a pair of eagles swoop out of the sky to attack a crowd of people. A resident interprets their actions as a sign of Zeus’ displeasure.)
One of my favorites, Cirque du Freak, involves several characters who can see through time and a series of prophecies about the fall of the vampires. The main character, Darren, is always pursued by the nagging possibility of “what if” and the consequences of failure.
Even Harry Potter contains a prophecy that surfaces (in full) in The Order of the Phoenix. It is the driving force behind Voldemort’s obsessive hunting of Harry.
So why does this happen so often? What appeal does this plot trope have to a YA audience?
I think it has something to do with offering young readers an idea that is slowly dying in their realities: that there is a set, stable, predictable future. Or, the opposite: that despite the path you’re set on, you can fight to change it.
Just think: you’re 14 years old. The world is brimming with possibility, but you’re also realizing its horrible, horrible flaws. All of the values you were spoon-fed as a child are beginning to unravel: there is not always justice, the greedy often triumph over the selfless, war is never-ending, there was never a Santa Claus or a tooth fairy or anything magic.
In the midst of this turmoil, you can turn to a story in which the future is not a roiling mass of chaos. There are rails. There is an order to things. If you follow steps A through C, you can succeed and save the world.
The opposite is just as powerful: you may feel like you have been set upon the rails. But there are stories out there that constantly hammer upon the idea that the future is malleable. You can change course if you fight. You aren’t doomed to the fate of your parents.
The prophecy trope is going to be around for a long time. It’s a classic story element and its appeal has lasted thousands of years.
What are some of the other prophecy novels you’ve read? List ‘em in the comments section and let’s discuss!
The Hero’s Journey (Monomyth) in YA
Written by Grant Goodman, 11/4/2014
The Hero’s Journey (also called Monomyth) is a story pattern that appears again and again in literature and film. You can find it featured prominently in The Odyssey, The Princess Bride, and The Lion King, just to name a few.
While there are many “official” steps, here are the basics of what you need to know:
- The hero is forced to leave home to seek out adventure/a new life.
- Our hero meets a mentor or receives supernatural aid.
- There are several small challenges the hero must conquer.
- The hero experiences death and rebirth (not always literally, though).
- The power/skills necessary to succeed are finally mastered by the hero.
- The key obstacle is overcome or defeated, leaving the hero free to live without fear.
Here’s an example for you, which is a spoilerific romp through a certain wizard story you may have heard of, called HARRY POTTER.
Harry is whisked away to Hogwarts, where he must learn to cope with being a celebrity and the pressures of wizard school. He finds himself mentored by a series of wizards: Hagrid, Dumbledore, Sirius. In book after book, Harry must confront the growing threat of an ever more powerful Lord Voldemort, until eventually he faces the fully revived wizard. Harry experiences death at the hands of Voldemort, though he comes back to life. Harry, having overcome death and becoming the master of the Elder Wand, is able to end Voldemort’s uprising. He has removed the world’s greatest threat and is therefore able to go on living his life.
There are several other prominent titles that follow this model. Suzanne Collins’ GREGOR THE OVERLANDER, Ursula Le Guin’s A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, and Christopher Paolini’s INHERITANCE CYCLE are a few more that come to mind.
The next time you’re making your way through a YA adventure novel, there’s a good chance you’re following one of the most widely used story patterns in human history.
If you’ve never seen it, JK Rowling delivered a wonderful speech about failure and creativity. It’s good medicine.