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!) 

3 Responses to Discussion: “Light” Contemporary YA

  1. I’ve actually been thinking along these lines as well recently. Not for a new idea but just in general – about how a story can be light and fun but still have substance. And how does one achieve that?

    I think Kasie West does a great job of it. Kelly Oram is also pretty decent though there are definitely novels of hers I like more than others. I don’t read a lot of contemporary YA so there aren’t any other authors that spring to mind.

    But I think you’re right, the key has to be great characters. If you can create characters that people love and love to spend time with then the material can be as light or as heavy as you want. Because it can be the reality of the characters and their relationship that give the story substance. Rather than some dramatic plot point.

    • I’m not familiar with Kelly Oram; which of her books would you recommend? I recently read Letters to the Lost which is a little heavier but not as heavy as some of the YA that’s out now, and it just felt really poignant to me and was highly readable the whole way. At the end of it I thought, “Wow, this is how I want to write.”

      What’s funny is that since this post (from almost a year ago?!) I’ve written 1 and 3/4 YA contemporary novels. I think I’m really coming into the genre and embracing it.

      • That’s so awesome that you’ve been writing so much (since I was TOTALLY late to the party with my comment). But it’s great that you’re writing and you’re practicing and that you feel good about working in a genre you enjoy so much. I’m excited that someday I’ll get to read your work 🙂

        “The Avery Shaw Experiment” is probably Kelly Oram’s best. I also really like “A is for Abstinence.” But you kind of have to read “V is for Virgin” to fully appreciate it and V is not great but slightly better than ok. It mostly just needed a good editor to give it focus and trim it some.

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