In the last fifteen years there has been an explosion of literature aimed at the teen demographic. The wealth of new YA lit has spawned the creation of sub-genre names to better identify the content of a teen novel. Learning the new genre names is something parents need to do if they want to have an understanding of what their teens want to read. It is hard to have a book discussion with your teen if you don’t know your steampunk from your dystopian. To that end, here is a brief guide on some of the new sub-genre terms that have cropped up recently.
Urban Fantasy: This sub-genre includes a mix of human and supernatural beings working together to defeat another evil being(s) in a big city setting. More often than not, the main character appears to be a regular teen and then discovers that she--or he--is part (insert supernatural being of your choice here). With this newfound knowledge she meets up with a group of people just like her and learns about a new world that either regular humans can’t see or is are too busy to notice. There is typically a romantic connection or love triangle that comes into play here as well.
Paranormal Romance: Usually, the main character is a human who falls in love with a supernatural being. That being may have been involuntarily “changed” or born that way. There is a dark threat looming over the human or the supernatural subset causing them to bond and join forces to save someone or something. The success of the Twilight series has spawned many copycats in this genre – some good, some ridiculous.
Dystopian Society: An apocalyptic or cataclysmic event that has changed the status quo on earth for the worse is a hallmark feature of this sub-genre. The event may be known to the reader from the beginning or it may be part of the mystery that is gradually unraveled through the story-telling. Usually the hero needs to prevent or escape the destruction that ensues. Sometimes a rogue government or scientific institution needs to be toppled as well. There is a tendency toward more violence in this sub-genre.
Problem Novel: A realistic portrayal of a teen’s first foray into a social or personal problem. Usually told from the first person perspective, this type of novel usually runs the gamut from first love, divorce, alcohol/drug-use, date-rape, sexuality, dissolving friendships and everything in-between. There may or may not be a “satisfying” resolution at the end.
Sick-Lit: This is a sub-genre of realistic fiction that is similar to the problem novel . This type of fiction focuses on realistic portrayals of teens suffering from a broad range of illnesses both physical and emotional. It might be a teen’s journey dealing with ADD or dyslexia. Some of these stories can be inspirational and cathartic. On the other hand, this genre also incorporates such mental/emotional illnesses as anorexia/bulimia, cutting and suicide. Some of the descriptions are so realistic that they could be considered “how-to” manuals on anorexia or cutting. Some may argue that they even glorify some of these destructive behaviors.
Sci-fi: This is not a new genre in literature, but teen sci-fi is typically paired with another genre or sub-genre, such as romance or dystopian. The hero usually discovers supernatural abilities after turning a certain age. These abilities may have come from an alien planet, meteor that hit earth, or developed by scientists on earth. Either way, our hero generally must battle alien forces or corrupt governments to save Earth, himself or his friends/family.
Steampunk: Part of the sci-fi category, steampunk literature incorporates machinery powered by (take a wild guess) steam in its plotline. The setting is usually the 19th century or the future, and it may include revisionist history with alternative machines. Characters in this sub-genre typically wear Victorian clothing and leather. The new Sherlock Holmes movies, featuring Robert Downey, Jr., are a good visual example of what the steampunk genre looks like.
The more I investigated the new sub-genres in teen lit, the more I realized that most teen books are a hybrid of one or more of these titles. It isn’t unrealistic to see an urban-dystopian-supernatural-romance. It is, however, unrealistic to expect that book to be good. In reading some of this literature, one of the discoveries I have made is that the longer the sub-genre title gets, the worse the story becomes. However, there are some books that stick to one or two of these categories that I have found to be excellent reads. Check out some of our reviews on What’s In It? to help you discern the ones with higher quality writing.