Mallory Dobry ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Looking over the covers in any Young Adult section of a bookstore, it’s easy to spot a common theme. It’s an array of metallic hardcovers, with bold face type and mostly one-word titles. It’s the trend of futuristic and dystopian fiction that has risen to great popularity within the genre. Titles like The Hunger Games and the Divergent paved the way for the recent fad, earning big screen adaptations, and showing that there is clear popularity and success in the futuristic and fantasty sub-genres. Other popular book series’ set in a dystopian or fantasy settings include The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, The Legend Trilogy by Marie Lu, and The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare.
While these stories take readers on incredible rides and journeys, full of adventure and action, sometimes characters are so far removed from the reality of the reader that it may be harder to relate to them. Of course, core values still shine through, like Katniss’ dedication to her sister or Clary of The Mortal Instruments’ determination to protect the ones she loves, but it becomes significantly harder to relate to a character when their world is so vastly different from our own.
Realistic Fiction is often brushed under the rug for being “boring” or less exciting because they take place in any ordinary setting one can find in real life. And while it is true that most people’s days go without any adventure, and aren’t the most story worthy, telling stories set in the real world can teach some of the most valuable lessons.
For instance, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins tells the story of Lola, a spunky teenager, who spends most of her days dressing up and expressing dramatic fashion styles to be someone different every day, learns what it means to just be herself, without the glamour or disguises. She’s a normal high school girl, balancing her family, friends, and romance, all while trying to figure out who she is.
In the case of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, introverted and careful Cath is a college freshmen coping with leaving her father behind when she goes to school, and the growing distance in her relationship with her twin sister Ren, who is more extroverted and seeks out parties and boys once she arrives at school. Cath also learns what it means to be an adult who can balance their adult life, with a more youthful side that cares deeply for their interests that some might write off as silly. Cath’s story shows a very real situation that many can relate to as they reach such a detrimental transition period, and gives hope that even the messiest of real life situations can sort themselves out.
Those are just two examples, but realistic fiction is full of real life problems that young people go through every day, and emphasizes the struggles that young readers might face. Often times, kids are told that their life “can’t be that bad” because they don’t have to have a job, or pay taxes, or put food on the table, and are not taken seriously. Realistic fiction offers a voice to those who seek a validation that their problems and struggles are real, and that they can get through them. The genre also highlights the underrepresented facets of life such as race or LGBTQIA+ themes. The realistic YA genre offers people of many genders, sexualities, races, and orientations to be heroes. And maybe they aren’t slaying dragons or stopping rebellions, but there is bravery enough in learning to be yourself and to overcome the hardships that people in real life cope with as well.
Many authors are masters at touching on real issues, including Sarah Dessen, David Levithan, Judy Blume, and Gayle Foreman, whose works sometimes delve into other territory, but have one foot solidly planted in reality. It’s important for young readers to see characters who are close to themselves, in any setting, dystopian or contemporary, to help learn who they are and grow. And perhaps the most important thing to take away from realistic fiction is the possibility to show young readers perhaps in the rising action of their own conflicts, that maybe they’ll have to reach past the rising action and climax in order to reach a happier ending.