(Thanks for rescuing me. They were threatening to make me write romance novels as a form of punishment until I showed them one of my pen names and the Harlequin-esque novel. They hurriedly gave in to your demands and now I’m free.)
Part of the issue today with aspects of science fiction is that some authors believe that there is no hope in the future. This reflects in their writing, and their public personae as well. Far too often we’re trying to hook teens and young adults on gritty realism and bleakness when we should be offering them hope and escapism in a story. I know that the kids at my work don’t want to read a book about the grim realities of life. They prefer superhero movies where there is a chance at the hero to be a hero.
I’ve covered this in the past but it seems to only be growing worse. Even I’ve noticed in my writing that I’ve gone away from the bright shining “everyone lives happily ever after” themes in my novels to a more “oh sh–, who’s Cordova killing next?” sort of tone. I could blame GRRM but really, everyone is doing it. Yes, yes, if all my friends jumped off a bridge, I’d probably follow… because my friends aren’t idiots and the bridge is only three feet above the pond.
It’s even affecting the YA market. What was once a bastion of hope and bright futures has turned into grimdark dystopian pieces. As much as I love The Hunger Games (well, the first book… the last two were all “Hey, you could turn this into a sequel and make MORE money!”) they offered almost no hope whatsoever. Article 5? Divergent? City of Bones? Look at every recent blockbuster YA and Teen hit and you’ll see a constant theme.
There. Is. No. Hope.
No wonder young adults don’t like reading. Instead of offering them an escape from reality, we’re shoving realistic misery down their throats. I’m not saying it has to stop, per se, since oftentimes an author can plumb the depths of the lowest lows to bring about a satisfying resolution to a hero or heroine’s quandry. I’m more along the lines of asking “Does it have to be grim dark, grim time, all time”?
I don’t know if you’ve read Dave Freer’s novel Stardogs but it has humanity hitting the lowest of lows while using these magnificent creatures to travel the stars, but offers up a satisfying bright hope for the future as a counterpoint. Stardogs was the first novel when I actively called Freer a bastard because it hit every right note for me. In fact, I’m pretty sure I gave it a glowing review once upon a time. To me, this is what a SF teen novel should be.
Another is David Weber’s A Beautiful Friendship, which is set in his Honorverse but well before the main storyline. It offers adventure, betrayal, hope, heroism… everything a young reader could want in a first book. I know many teens who hated science fiction change their tone after reading this one.
I also noticed that a common theme between the two is that there are animal companions… *taking notes*
What other young adult novels in either science fiction or fantasy do you think offer a bright conclusion to a story? Suggestions for readers who are interested in finding something other than a dark dystopian love triangle?
Now for the gritty grim-grim part. Jason is currently running a promotion on his YA series and the first book of The Warp, Corruptor, is available for only $0.99 running through the entire weekend. This one hits all the highs and lows for a young reader. Video games? Check. Strong female lead? Check. Danger? Check. Excitement? Check. Satisfying conclusion? Check-ish.
Why a check-ish, you ask? Well, it’s because it’s the first of a four book series, and the sequel is out now as well.
It is true that they have a lot of dystopians, but it’s not true that there’s no hope. I’ve read only a few since I’m not big on YA, but these always start with grim dark and end with hope. The Hunger Games is a great example. The old way was torn down, they made a new government, and the characters lived happily ever after. Divergent wasn’t exactly happily ever after for the main characters, but the society as a whole ended with a new structure and hope for the future.
I think that’s what all these YA dystopians have in common actually, they always end with the dystopian society being torn down and a new one being put into place where people have a shot at having decent lives and happily ever afters.
Oh man, The Hunger Games might have been about tearing down and rebuilding, but the ending was so depressing that I was ready to induce blunt force trauma to my brain to make it cheer up.
It was sad, but it was also a look at PTSD and how it affects people. She got a lot right on Katniss’ psychological state and it’s effect on her relationships. That girl had seen and done some serious stuff, and she suffered for it. But there was healing and hope, too. I thought the ending was probably the best written part of the whole trilogy.
Divergent setting-nuked multiple times. I’ll forgive one as the wool being removed from characters’ eyes, but it got to the point where it made. no. sense.
Also: GENETICS DOESN’T WORK LIKE THAT YOU STUPID WOMAN!!!!!
Hmm. Pam’s books as Zoey Ivers. Jagi’s books. What else are my boys’ reading that counts as YA? (A Few Good Men does not.) Um, Rick Riordan seems to be hopeful.
How exactly does YA differ from adult? It used to be that you were safe from sex in YA. That’s no longer the case. (Well, is with authors above, but not in general.) Is there any meaningful distinction now?
I’m not certain. I know I try to keep the language PG-13 and below in my YA books, but I read P.C. Cast’s Vampire Academy books and I was all “This is YA???”
There are two overlapping categories now: YA and “teen.” The stupid thing, to my mind, is that Teen is the one with sex and YA is the one without. Oh-kay…
They shouldn’t be as gritty and dark. Violence should be off-screen, and when it can’t be, it shouldn’t be graphic. Sex should be the same way, if at all. That does not mean there shouldn’t be attraction between characters, but it shouldn’t be told in clinical detail. Language should be toned down.
That doesn’t mean it should be all lightness and treacle, but there’s a difference between having a character go through a bad thing and forcing the reader to watch as they wallow in it. In the juvenile I have out now, there is the threat of torture and murder, and some short battle scenes, but there is not much detail. And while the ending is upbeat, it doesn’t make light of what’s transpired up to that point.
Yet I have a tendency to write darker as the anticipated age of the reader gets older, and have been called out on this by test readers. Good triumphs over evil, and there’s no question of who’s good and who’d wicket. And yet more stuff happens on stage and there lies the problem.
There’s going to be complaints that not “going there” cheats young readers, who already have had some exposure to this sort of thing. Yet as someone who was well familiar with such at a young age, I was never impressed when a writer incorporated profanity or graphic violence or women that took more turns than a doorknob. It was as though the writer was putting in things just for the sake of having profanity, graphic violence, and sex, and it wasn’t part of the story at all.
What’s annoying is when an author takes a really good story for YA and adds a graphic sex scene (normally completely gratuitous).
Take Neil Gaiman’s Stardust as an example. I’d love for my kids to read it (even though it IS extremely dark–it’s about faerie, after all), except for that one scene right time the first couple of chapters.
Robert Asprin’s “For King and Country”
Great for younger readers…. until the extended talk about “the Holy Vulva”
As best I can tell, in too many cases*, YA means the protagonists are ages 13-17 or 18. Past that and you never quite know what you’ll find.
*In my opinion, YA has younger protagonists, no sex, any violence past school-yard scuffle happens off campus, and minimal swearing. A hopeful ending at at least one honorable adult role-model are also highly desirable.
That’s been my experience as well: a YA novel simply means that the protagonist is a teenager (and thus will be relevant to high school kids, because you know that no one can enjoy a book if the protagonist isn’t exactly like him/her). It would be nice if it also meant that, if it were a movie, it would be rated no worse than PG-13, but it doesn’t.
Query: Is it solely the age of the protagonist that makes a YA novel? The reason I’m asking is that I’ve started (and hope eventually to publish) a mystery series set in the Golden Age (country-house England between the wars) with adult characters, but at more or less a YA level: no sex, very mild language, no gorily explicit violence; the heroine at the start being in her early twenties: can it be classified as YA?
The definition I like the best says that the hallmark of a YA story is that kids do everything; adults are ineffectual or actively hostile. I like that because it makes it clear that a coming-of-age story is not YA. There are a bunch of other things you probably have to do to make a YA story that sells (e.g. no sex, no drugs, mild language, lots and lots of action, etc.) but I’m sure I’ve heard of “edgy YA” that does have sex and drugs but is still a YA story.
I just re-read the Cynthia Voigt Tales of the Kingdom series (the first used to be titled Jackaroo until they rebranded them all with The Tale of [Name]) and I wouldn’t say that’s the case there. While the protagonists are teens (by our definition; they’re definitely adult in the series setting), it’s not that the adults are indifferent or hostile; it’s that the situation is pretty messed up and the protagonists are usually isolated from help in one way or another. They have several laudable adult characters, but the circumstances take the protagonists out of their spheres of influence.
I think you might look at is as though YA tends to have a tight focus—it’s about the protagonist and those directly around them. It’s not going to bring in characters from a long ways off who might have a tangential effect on the protagonist; if there’s a far-off character, their effect is immediate and personal. There’s also some writing style in play here; as I said elsewhere in this thread, if H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy had teenaged protagonists, it would be a classic YA style. Clean, straightforward prose, and while there may be layered meaning to things, it’s not necessary to probe the deeper layers in order to understand the plot.
Hmm. I’d throw a lot of James Schmitz into the YA category for accessibility, though the only ones you could throw into YA because of the definition of “protagonist is a teen” would be the Telzey books. (If it weren’t for that limitation, I’d suggest the Little Fuzzy books by H. Beam Piper as YA.)
Any of the Terry Pratchett YA, naturally. I’ve just finished reading the Cynthia Voigt Tales of the Kingdom series (which have two names; the original ones and the more boring “series” names), and that’s YA fantasy-no-magic. Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books, Brandon Sanderson’s YA work, the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer (definitely a far-future dystopia, but the protagonists are fighting their way out of it, heavily based on fairytales, happy ending.)
The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is a book I picked up because it looked interesting, and the contents matched the cover pretty well. Pseudo-Victorian murder mystery set at a girls’ boarding school.
I may come up with more later.
Oh! Robin McKinley. Just about all of her work aside from Deerskin and Sunshine is overall hopeful. (Deerskin is a very good book, don’t get me wrong, but the fairy tale it’s based on involves incest and implied threat of rape, which she moved to actuality. Can be traumatic or therapeutic. And Sunshine involves vampires, and not the nice kind.)
Um… well, sorta. Dragonhaven lost me near the end, although Chalice was goodish.
And yeah, the most recent one, Pegasus… You can’t have a human literally falling in love and eloping with a flying horse, unless you are going to give signals about curses or shapeshifting being involved. I know it’s just Part One of a duology, but sheesh.
OTOH, the novel she’s writing on her blog is totally okay. Don’t ask me why writers do this.
Oh, and Shadows was good. Sorta Diana Wynne Jones-ish. But the title is so generic that I have trouble remembering it.
I haven’t read either Dragonhaven or Pegasus, so that’s why they weren’t on my list. There hasn’t been a bookstore in my town in six and a half years, so I miss out on a lot of browsing.
I just finished Pegasus, and I don’t get where you got “falling in love with and eloping” out of it. (And unfortunately, it’s not the “most recent” one—she finished it in 2010 and there’s no sign of the sequel appearing, which is very frustrating.)
I second Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books, especially the earlier ones. And Robin McKinley with the same caveats. Susan Cooper’s books, A lot of Jane Yolan, Diane Duane’s early “So You Want to be a Wizard.” My “Shikari” books 1-3. By book four the protagonists are adults.
Jane Yolen is a fantastic writer at all age levels, and I’ve bought a lot of her stuff with nothing to go on but her name. It’s worth noting, however, that she is not shy of death, and you wouldn’t want to spring Briar Rose on the unprepared. (Love that book, but “Sleeping Beauty and the Holocaust” is not for the faint of heart.)
And what’s wrong with Dave Freer’s Changeling Island, I’d like to know?
I had zero success interesting mine in SF, and it had nothing to do with the modern dystopias. They simply didn’t grab them. Fantasies did, and it may well be that it’s harder for SF to invoke the same sense of wonder in today’s kids because they already live in the future. The things that seemed out there to us don’t seem that far away to them.
Yeah, I tried labeling short stories according to whether the ended on a hopeful or a hopeless note, but there were so few hopeless ones (outside of horror) that I quit doing it. (I labeled a bit over 1,000 recent short stories before I reached that conclusion.)
Perhaps the more salient issue is whether the story shows a future that is better or worse than the present. On that score, I think there’s a heavy preponderance of stories that depict a future that’s at least disappointing if not outright grim.
I think it’s easier to get away with a short story that ends on a note of doom. Many of the best horror stories do. With a longer story, you don’t want your emotional investment rewarded with “everybody dies, the monster still lives”. That’s the reason I don’t like most modern horror movies.
Jason said: “Far too often we’re trying to hook teens and young adults on gritty realism and bleakness when we should be offering them hope and escapism in a story.”
Hope? Screw hope! How about respect? How about approval? How about the boy reads the book, and he’s bursting with pride that he’ll grow up to be a Man, by God!
How about its the invading shit-head aliens that are the virus, and Humans are the cure? Huh? Lemme see some of that! I want to see some aliens busting their asses to get OFF planet Earth and escape the scary Humans!
This bunch in my latest story, I am going to scare them SO bad they pee their non-existent pants. (It has previously been established that alien AIs do not have pants. Or, you know, legs.)
This is why I don’t read anymore. If I want to see some Humans get ahead, I have to fricking write it myself. What the hell is that all about?
No, no, no. Humans are the disease that are killing off Mother Gaia, aliens are the cure. /sarc
You may wish to consider ambling on to “Humanity, F*** Yeah!”
If you can deal with “spell-checked but not copy-edited”, The Human Chronicle Sagas are exactly this. I managed to get through the first 15 before calling it quits.
Oh. And the series that starts with the Marines getting kidnapped by aliens. I think someone here wrote it. Checking my Amazon library… Ah, yes: A Learning Experience by Christopher Nuttall.
Digging in Amazon, I also found Trader’s Tales from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper which is more YA hero’s journey than “humans kick ass”. The (currently) second-from-last book is a little disappointing (“and then he bought a ship” is the whole book) but it has its moments.
Gordy Dickson has a bunch of that. Don’t think it’ll appeal to today’s teens because it’s old fashioned.
Might be surprised. I’m a child of the ’80s, and I loved stuff from the ’30s and ’40s. A co-worker of mine is also similarly into older SF. It can happen.
Should have added: she’s in college.
You’re not alone, and your concept is at heart my current WIP: There are little monsters in the collective unconscious that create nightmares and then feast on the emotions they evoke in dreamers…until one guy figures it out, and descends on dreamspace with a small army of lucid dreamers who kick the living crap out of the monsters until the monsters are begging for their lives. You don’t see stories like that much anymore. ALL my stories (except maybe 1) have happy endings. It’s just the way I am. Life’s too short to dwell on bummers. Monsters? Nasty aliens? Like the great man said:
“DEATH AND DESTRUCTION!”
Same thing I was complaining about in my ATH piece “Rejection of a Dark Age” a while back. I see the blurbs on all these YA books and way too often it’s almost always evil corporations, futures divided between haves and have-nots, eco-doom or some combo thereof.
And I’m wondering when the next stardogs book will be out
I love dystopias.
A dark setting increases the gem’s sparkle.
Or with less abuse of metaphor, it’s easy to be heroic in a crapsack world.
It’s as simple as stating that 2+2=4.
A superhero saving an orphan? At best, it’s “a day in the life” filler.
But a cyberpunk hoodrat doing the same? That’s a story.
A protagonist who has become fully aware of the Lovecraftian Horrible Truth, but who willingly sacrifices himself to grant humanity a meager extension until the inevitable doomsday?
A Canticle for Leibowitz?
You won’t find much darker a setting, featuring cannibals, murderers, bloodthirsty conquerers, and the inevitable collapse of civilization.
But it’s shot through with goodness and hope.
That said, far too few writers take advantage of this.
Brandon Sanderson would be one of them, in his first Mistborn trilogy.
I think the second Mistborn series is going that way. He has a tendency to up the stakes but still have the good folk prevail.
I can’t speak much to the YA market, although I just read “A Wrinkle in Time” for the first time before giving a copy to my 9-year-old granddaughter. I will, however, add that all I need these days is to see “dystopian” or “post-apocalyptic” in a book’s blurb to “move on – nothing to see here” it. Enough, already!
I loved Enchantress from the Stars. I read it in middle school, sometime. It was sweet and hopeful. The sequel The Far Side of Evil was shockingly dark – especially at that age.
I had almost the exact opposite impression of Stardogs. It is well written, but I despise(*) most of the characters. When they were trying to escape the desert, I hoped they would all die (although I have the paperback copy of that so I knew there was too much book left; sigh). It does end on a hopeful note so I am looking forward to a more upbeat sequel.
The Schooled in Magic series is YA and I loved it (at 50).
(*) The opposite of love is not hate; it’s apathy. You can’t make me hate a badly written character.
I had forgotten about Enchantress from the Stars. That was great. For hopeful YA, Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky, Have Spacesuit Will Travel, the Star Beast, etc.
Reblogged this on Lee Dunning and commented:
I’m reposting this for a couple of reasons—one Jason touches on some points concerning YA that have annoyed me some myself. Two, I did the covers for the new series he’s plugging.
Stardogs was the first novel when I actively called Freer a bastard because it hit every right note for me.
High praise, and a chuckle-inducing one. ^_^
For teen to YA that aren’t grimdark or love triangles, there’s Brandon Mull, especially his “Fablehaven” series. John Flanagan and his “Ranger’s Apprentice” series. Jack Campbell’s “Legacy of Dragons” series (in progress), and even the preceding “Pillars of Reality”. Kal Spriggs “Valor’s Child” series (in progress). I’ll second Jagi Lamplighter’s Rachel Griffin series. (also in progress).
There’s no escaping the violence if there’s a war going on, but you if can do it without becoming excessively graphic or glorifying it, that’s all to the good. These should all qualify on the basis of younger protagonists, no sex, and minimal swearing, They have hopeful endings (or at least the promise thereof) and at least one honorable adult role-model.
Lord, I wish I had the nerve to plug one of my own books, probably the most potentially commercial thing I have in the product line so far if anybody ever notices it. But somehow self-promotion seems tacky, so I won’t. I will say that it’s set in 2037. Is it a dystopia? Well, I decided to use my latent psychic powers to take a look at the future and see what kind of world it would be. I imagined sending my mind forward into the realm of things yet to be, and what it came back with was a vision of… sunlight. The best I could figure was that this sad old world would muddle through somehow and things wouldn’t be awful. They might even be pretty good. So I went with that, though I probably won’t sell very many books that way since it isn’t what all the cool-kid authors are writing. It could also be that my crystal ball is cracked…
Jeramey Kraatz’s Cloak Society trilogy.
Second Rachel Griffin
Well. Carp in a fishbowl. Round One got eaten.
So I promised Jagi I’d do a superversive teen book list (and I am) but its annotated & so taking rather a long time:
The Rangers Apprentice and Brotherband series by John Flanagan. Exciting adventures set in a quasi-late-medieval-English (in the first) and Scandinavian- (in the second) setting. Both boys and girls like these stories, a lot, and the audio books are excellent. Makes for a great family listen-together for road trips for ages 10 and up. Positive masculine virtues, no Christianity- or West. Civ.-bashing, girls don’t go toe-to-toe with men twice their size, and sex and romance are assumed to exist within the framework of marriage first, then nookie. Quite good choices to read with your kids, as the storytelling mixes quickly-moving plot with moments of laugh-out-loud character-based humor.
The Blackthorne Key series by Kevin Sands ~ Historical fiction page-turner featuring a young apothecary’s apprentice tracking serial killers through 17th century London. Great world-building that doesn’t throw the reader out of the story by virtue-signaling that of course no-one now-a-days thinks anything like that: monarchy is good, prayer is effective, etc. or makes the main character the only 14-year-old non-conforming Brave Atheist (TM) in the city. Because of the young hero’s age & economic status, sex isn’t on the table. Downside: it’s really violent. Parents would be wise to read this along with or before younger teens. Upside: it’s freaking awesome, with a good reader for the audio-book.
See what I mean? But that gets you ~20 great reads right there.
Sorry about missing the closed quote there. Here’s what you’ve got so far + some suggestions
Younger Teen (but older teens can enjoy it) ** = SF!
Joan Aiken – adult novels complete rubbish. But! Armitage Stories (funny modern fantasy), Wolves of Willoughby Chase (alt history, first 2 books awesome, begins to get progressively more disappointing after), Midnight is a Place. Short story collections such as Smoke from Cromwell’s time highly recommended.
Jack Campbell – Daughter of Dragons (Book 1 Legacy of Dragons) – Have not read. Seems as if it might be and adult title. Might be wise to read yourself before sharing (i.e. Rosenberg’s Sword & the Chain. Not a first choice for a 12-year-old 🙂
**Gordon Dickinson (if you can find it) The Space Winners
**Sylvia Engdahl.- Enchantress from the Stars. Far Side of Evil is definitely for older teens. Best choice: Beyond the Tomorrow Mountains. Give to your young teen who got stuck reading The Giver in school.
John Flanagan – The Ruins of Gorlan (Book 1 RA) & The Outcasts (Book 1 BB)
Executive summary of “Daughter of Dragons” The heroic couple of his previous series (the Pillars of Reality) are the de facto leaders of the free world, still opposed by remnants of the old orders. Their mid-teens daughter has a serious case of great parents child syndrome. An expedition from earth with high technology but nefarious intentions maroons a young man in their care, then finds it was a mistake. The youngsters run away together with all parties in hot pursuit. Some violence, no sex, the good guys win.
I read and liked “Wolves of Willoughby Chase” when I was a kid, but I never found any of the sequels. What are their titles?
The main sequel, and the best, is Black Hearts in Battersea.
Nightbirds in Nantucket follows on, and it’s pretty good, in Captain’s Courageous kind of way.
After that, I forget, because, well, they weren’t that memorable.
Nicholas Stuart Grey (IYCFI) Grimbold’s Other World & Mainly in Moonlight. Fairy tales.
**Robert A. Heinlein – Master of juvenile SF. Some adult will go younger, but re-read yourself first. My yard-ape’s faves: Starman Jones, Star Beast, Rolling Stones, Have Spacesuit Will Travel & Citizen of the Galaxy. Note: if Christian, you’ll want to re-read yourself and discuss. Great audi-books for car trips.
L. Jagi Lamplighter – The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin (Rachel Griffin #1) Note that the 13-year-old hero goes boy-crazy early on and gets an older (16?) boyfriend. Sex and romance w/in understand of marriage first, but may be off-putting to some younger teens. Exciting adventures also take a dark turn by book 3 + funny bits.
Diana Wynne Jones. Duh. Note that some of her books are better enjoyed by adults/older teens because your young teen won’t get into them. See also: James H. Schmitz and waiting until 14/15 because too young to appreciate. Why yes, I did learn that the hard way. Re-read them first yourself
Gordon Korman – Ungifted (hilarious real-world fiction), Swindle (ditto + action adventure) and **Masterminds (modern-day thriller/SF).
Jeremy Kraatz – Cloak Society series – Looks amazeballs, but have not read. On list.
**Ann M. Mason – (if you can find it) The Stolen Law
Robin McKinley – Beauty, The Blue Sword (#1). All others are variously disappointing, and some are explicity written for adults, i.e. Sunshine & Deerskin. Straight from the author’s mouth on that one, folks.
re RACHEL, Jagi makes good use of the off-putting parts. They’re pretty off-putting to the characters, too. The scene where it dawns on her that certain, ahem, *activities* are implied by this whole “girlfriend” thing is hilarious.
And then there’s the boyfriend. I got the distinct impression he “jumped the gun” because he didn’t want to wait for some (indeterminate number of) other guy(s) to see what he saw and turn it into a horse race. And now he’s tiptoeing through minefields, exploring the ramifications of the word “boundaries.”
Not to mention the word “perceptions.” No spoilers, but *that* set of ramifications was enough to justify the price of every book in the series so far–to me, anyway. ROFL!
All this, and no stepping over lines. Two basically good kids trying to figure out this whole romance thing–and it’s COMPLICATED…
I didn’t mean to imply they weren’t wonderful! I’ve given them to kids, my own young teen loves them. But I have gotten that reaction from 12- and 13-year-olds w/whom I share the book.
Yeah. Rachel’s boyfriend isn’t crossing ANY lines he shouldn’t, and it’s a good example to boy-crazy girls of how to navigate those waters without getting into trouble.
One of my good friends was just such a one when she was Rachel’s age. I went along despite being bored to tears with the subject. I caught up 2 years later 🙂
Tamora Pierce – Aside from the assumption, in all her fantasy books, that 5′ 5″ girls can become better swordsmen than 6′ young men if they just work hard enough (oy!) and that the only reason for teens not to have sex is access to Magic Birth Control (yes.), The Circle of Magic series, Alanna series, Protector of the Small, Wild Magic, and Trickster series are enjoyable fantasy adventure for young teens. Mixed bag for adult readers.
Robin McKinley – Beauty, The Blue Sword (#1). All others are variously disappointing, and some are explicity written for adults, i.e. Sunshine & Deerskin. Straight from the author’s mouth on that one, folks.
Kate Milford – Greenglass House: Westing Game-esque mystery that turns out to be a fantasy ala Joan Aiken.
Bradon Mull – Fablehaven series. Okay reads. Definitely not grimdark though.
Christopher Nuttal – Schooled in Magic (series) – have not read. Added to list.
Margi Preus – Shadow on the Mountain – Historical fiction based on true story of a teenage Norwegian resistance fighter.
Rick Riordan – The Kane Chronicles (Egypt), Percy Jackson & the Olympians (Greek), Heroes of Olympus (Rome). Note the Asgard/Norse lore books he attempts to go full-SJW (sometimes to hilarious effect: “trans” is real because the character is a literal shape-changer.
Kevin Sands – The Blackthorn Key (Book 1)
Kal Spriggs – Valor’s child (series) Another I haven’t read. Adding to list. Thanks!
**Rod Walker – Young Man’s War & Alien Game – Heinlein-style adventures w/out the boring & anti-social sex. Actual authorial voice much closer to Gordon Dickinson, however. No-one’s yet mastered that.
John C. Wright – Somewither, The Green Knight’s Squire & Dark Avenger’s Sidekick – Note, may have James H. Schmitz effect & require older teen reader.
At the end of the day “YA” or “teen” is
1. A marketing tool. What gets shelved to sell to teens and/or their parents & teachers
2. Features a teen protagonist doing teen stuff. May include explicitly adult books by mistake.
3. May (MAY!) exercise restraint in matters of explicit sex, violence, and SJW-full-potato stupid. Now really only true of “tween” novels because if we can’t exploit teen readers for $$$ who can we exploit.
4. Is within the scope of understanding of someone who has never been anything but young.
This latter is the critical piece in matching a reader to the book. This is why I’m not giving my yard ape the Dresden books yet (and it’s not just because Harry gets laid from time to time, and the sex vampires in later books) but I did give her (to her great delight: she devoured them) the James Herriot books beginning with All Creatures Great and Small.
YMMV of course. I read LOTR on my 8th birthday.
My favorite book at the age of eight was Watership Down. A book written based on the stories that the author made up to scare his kids (who were presumably horror lovers or the sort of kids who told campfire tales.) And I’ll say that the James Herriot books are excellent books for teens.
My book (which is listed in Children’s for some reason) is only YA because I realized that it could (barely) fit the category, and would be a better overall fit. I naturally write in a style that some folk would think of as “bowlderized.” (I can and do use actual swear words in person, but I have to fight my instincts to type one out, even now.)
Yep. Odds are a whole ‘nother critter.