Discussion: “Light” Contemporary YA

Lately I’ve been on the hunt for more fun, clean contemporary YA, in part because my next story idea I want to get serious writing about falls into this category. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find much in this category outside of Kasie West, though I did recently finish Love & Gelato by Jenni Evans Welch that met the criteria and was an enjoyable read.

As you may have noticed, I have yet to use the word “fluffy” like many would, and that’s because I still want my fun contemporary YA to have substance, and I believe several of them do. The question is, how to insert it without suddenly making your book all about an issue? How do you achieve meaningful character growth when you want to avoid the death of a family member or some other catastrophe that feels more dramatic than what you are really going for? Yes, something needs to happen to make the character grow, but I don’t think it has to be BIG AND DRAMATIC.

I was thinking recently of how Jane Austen’s books were contemporary for her time. She was writing about people in her place and time, and yet her stories have endured. Maybe it’s because the romances felt more original than what we read now (since many rehash hers), I don’t really know. Perhaps it’s a tall order, but I want to figure out how to write a contemporary YA that is fairly light in nature (not an issue book like Thirteen Reasons Why, which has obviously seen enormous success for about a decade now) but can stand out and endure. I’m not expecting it to last hundreds of years necessarily, but I would hate to see anything I might publish one day basically blink out of oblivion within a year or two.

As I think of my adoration of The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, what comes to mind is how much I love the characters Paige and Max, and love how they come together. To me, it’s just perfect. And that’s the sort of story I strive to write – with characters so lovable that you root for them hardcore and are happy when it all works out in the end, and that in the end it feels like more than just a romance.

What are your thoughts? What are your favorite light YA contemporary reads, and what makes a great one in your opinion? (Please share recs too!) 

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