10/20 CYBORGS by Grace Goodwin, Author of the Interstellar Brides Series

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

URBAN LIT - Young Adult Style

Welcome Back

I'm B. A. Binns, YA author, here to talk about one of the sub-genres of realistic YA fiction, the one called Urban Lit (a.k.a Street Lit).  This genre moves away from small towns and countrysides, and away from the fantasy, historical or futuristic, past edgy to the kinds of subject matter you might see in the news. Urban Lit is edgy, gritty, set in modern cities and generally involves a non-white protagonist and/or antagonist dealing with today's problems.

There are young people eager to read about the supernatural, or about a dystopian future, or a girl needing a date to the prom.  There are also people hungry to see their reality, edgy though it might be, on the pages. They like seeing themselves in a book. While more mainstream books are including POC (people of color) in the cast, its frequently in a sidekick role, and sometimes the portrayal borders on the stereotypical.

Urban Lit forces many of us out of our comfort zones

The myth may be “these kids don’t read,” but Urban Lit’s popularity among teens show that they ARE reading. The genre has been described as “high-octane storytelling” and as having “unforgettable characters” in a 2008 article in School Library Journal.  Take a look at a sample list of Urban Lit titles for teens. YA titles in this genre usually  keep sex and violence at arm’s length, and often include  “warnings about the harmful consequences of destructive or criminal behavior.”  Mostly, YA urban lit has teen appeal, and is hitting the desks of mainstream publishers as well as Indies. Best of all, reading Urban Lit can provide a springboard for moving non-readers into trying out other genres. As librarian and author Megan Honig said, “Gossip Girl and Street Lit have a lot in common.” 

At first I rebelled against considering my novel, PULL, to be Urban Lit. I fear I had the same misconceptions about the genre that other people do. Many past examples have been poorly written, and that has tarnished the entire genre.  But the more I read of outstanding authors like Coe Boot, Sharon Draper, Walter Dean Myers, and Sharon Flake, the more I realized there are good and bad examples of the genre out there. A lot more of the examples are needed by kids who eat it up. I had one boy tell me his mother asked him if that was a picture of him on the cover of PULL. Several girls have mentioned picking the book out because of the "hot guy" on the cover.

With my second book, BEING GOD (my title, I don't know what the editor will want) is solidly Urban Lit, dealing with the issue of teen alcoholism. This and other books will be there for kids who want to see themselves and issues that are relevant to them.

As one librarian said, ‘It’s really just realistic fiction, right?”
Yes! These are books that come from someone’s reality!!

Do you agree? Have you read Urban Fiction? Comment and let me know your feelings.

Extra – Breaking News

I will be part of a panel discussing unconventional romances in YA at the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents workshop as part of the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) on November 22, 2011. I’m excited to be part of a panel with authors Stephanie Perkins, Sara Zarr, and my personal idol, Simone Elkeles.

Last, but not least

Barbara Vey, Contributing Editor at Publishers Weekly, is holding her a Reader Appreciation Luncheon in Wisconsin on April 10, 2012, just before the RT Booklovers convention in Chicago. I am pleased to announce that I am one of authors attending. If you are in the Chicago or Milwaukee area, or plan on attending RT, think about adding this event to your itinerary. You can request a seat at my table (or at any of the tables of the other 37 authors) if you are a fan of YA romance where the girl gets the guy, and vice versa.

Detailed information on the luncheon and instructions on how to request a specific author’s table, are available at her Readers Appreciation Luncheon Website.


Judith Ashley said...

Hi B.A., I always learn so much from reading your posts. My high school age granddaughter is not into reading other than what is required at school. Oh yes, and text messages and FB comments. She doesn't sigh and relax with a book in her hand at all.

Maybe since she loves to listen to her IPod I can point her in the 'books on tape' stories. It isn't that she doesn't like to hear stories - reading is not fun for her. I tell you this because I'm so pleased that there are authors like you who are writing to capture the interest of kids in this age group and teachers who want to learn about YA authors.

I can't imagine my world without stories, without books. (I can imagine it without T.V. and movies, go figure).

Mindy Hardwick said...

Great post! I run a poetry workshop with teens in a juvenile detention (www.denneypoetry.com). We often use YA literature and memoirs in the workshop. The kids love the Urban YA! It's often hard to give them YA books because they see right through the characters who are "edgy" and say, "That's not how it is!" But with Urban YA, they can relate to those characters. I'm going to read your books and have a few more to recommend to the kids! Thanks so much!

Gillian Layne said...

I think we should be encouraging anything that gets teens to read a book and hopefully put some thought into the story line. Get those neurons firing!

Maureen McGowan said...

Great post, B.A.

Genre labels are such a double edged sword... To me your books are just contemporary YA fiction, but on the other hand if the urban label helps it find readers... (And hot guys on covers...) No straightforward answers. I'm glad I'm not in marketing. I'd rather write. :)

Renee Pace said...

I can't say enough great things about your writing, B.A. I wrote Off Leash, my own nitty gritty YA novel and couldn't find an agent/editor/publisher so I've launched it on my own. After reading your books and Speak I thought - I'm going for it. As an Indie author these type of stories appeal to teens. My 3rd bk in the series features a refugee trying to be just like everyone else in Canada and well, you know that's not going to happen.

Morgan Mandel said...

I think teens in such circumstances badly need books like yours so they figure out how to deal with issues confronting them.The fact they're reading them shows they appreciate reading something they can relate to.

Morgan Mandel

Paty Jager said...

B.A. Great info about a genre I know little about. Good luck with your panel appearances.

Janet Gurtler said...

Great post! I enjoyed reading it and am a big fan of realistic ficiton!

Connie Gillam said...

A great post, Barbara and very thought provoking one.

Nancy Holland said...

Great post, Barbara. Reading is so important. Anything that keeps kids reading is great in my book.

Diana Mcc. said...

Enjoyed your post, B.A. No I haven't read Urban YA. I agree with the my fellow bloggers in that what ever books get kids reading I'm all for it. There is too much t.v., Facebook, twitter and gaming and not near enough reading.

Congrats on being chosen for the panes!

Yasmine Phoenix said...

I enjoyed your post. I also enjoyed reading Push. It was refreshing to have a YA novel with African American males who are not stereotyped.

Sarah Raplee said...

What a fabulous, well-deserved honor to be serving on the panel, educating our educators about relevant contemporary YA Romance stories!

I've read Urban Fiction, and I totally agree that 'it's really just realistic fiction.'

I guarantee that YA Urban Fiction authors have many readers who cross over into the genre out of curiosity. Although the stories may not represent their personal experience, these readers will benefit immensely from walking in someone else's shoes and learning how alike - and how different - their lives are.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

"Pull" was the first urban lit title I've read and I loved it! Have recommended it to my friends with teens.