Contemporary means present or modern. And in the world of YA books, it typically means teens just living their lives, taking one step at a time, dealing with school, family and boys, of course. But why is this appealing? Why do I read it when there are blood-thirsty vampires and wizards running about?
Because contemporary YA is real. It doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not, because it can’t. It’s real life. It’s relatable. It’s knowing you’ve got something in common with someone. It’s knowing you’re not alone, no matter the subject.
What would my teenage years have been like without Meg Cabot? The old Meg Cabot. I’m talking Princess Diaries and All American Girl, with their awkward, nerdy female protagonists, looking for ways to embrace their weirdness. What would I have done without Sam and Mia? They helped me think that just maybe high school could be bearable.
Or what about Rachel Cohn’s Gingerbread series? If not for those, I’d have never gotten an up-close look at the constructs of long-distance relationships, or the matching of fun with work. I’d also certainly not have longed for a surfer boyfriend.
And I can’t not mention Sarah Dessen, who is probably considered the Mother of all Contemporary YA. (And rightfully so.) Her stories illuminate the lives of teens everywhere, dealing with issues of friendship to family hardships to medical problems. She takes the pain and coaxes it, showing that things really will be all right, if you give them the chance to be.
And then every once in a while, you come across those special books – the ones that will stay with you for a long time. They’re not just beautiful, they’re powerful. They take your world and turn it upside down, leaving nothing but raw emotion in their wake. For me, this type of special book is, and always will be, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. It deals with a controversial topic, and is often banned, but in all honesty, it’s moving. Touching. Poignant. I can’t imagine anyone reading Speak and not being sucked into the contemporary YA circuit. It’s that wonderful.
There’s a lot to learn from contemporary YA, and I think that’s what keeps me coming back for more. The lessons never end. I can read ten books about boyfriends and breakups and rotten friends, and still see a different perception – a different angle to the story – every time. It never gets old.
Contemporary YA is me.