Postcard For Reader + TIME

A Resurgence of Dark (Teens Aren't Stupid)

If you take a stroll down the YA fiction aisle in any bookstore these days, you’ll be inundated with dark. Dark covers. Dark stories. Vampires. Werewolves. Other creepy paranormal. Dystopian sagas. Shockingly brutal contemporaries dealing with real life issues like addiction and eating disorders. It’s as if, all of the sudden, after a multi-decade diet of Disneyfied, watered-down stories where happily ever after was too easily won or the result of a deus ex machina, teens are rising up and saying NO! We want more to our fiction than fluff. We want something real. Real may not mean real life in the sense of exactly how things tend to go in the real world—as evidenced by the insatiable popularity of all things paranormal. Real, in this case, means real challenges, real emotion, real conquest. And you know why?

Because teens are a heck of a lot smarter than most grown-ups give them credit for.

I’m not sure at what point it was decided that the dark needed to be taken out of fairy tales (and young adult stories in general). Some well-meaning grown-ups wanted to extend childhood innocence, I guess. Probably the point at which child labor was outlawed and teens became students rather than workers. They became lumped in with the children instead of the adults, but nobody took into account that they were closer to one than the other. And then there was that hideous trend that swept the genre when I was a teen, where books were seen as a means of moralizing and lesson teaching rather than entertainment, and teen characters more resembled twelve year olds in adult bodies. It’s no wonder we all skipped YA books and jumped straight from Nancy Drew to adult fiction.

But here’s the thing: Teens aren’t stupid, and they don’t appreciate authors who treat them so. They know that life is hard. They know that sometimes it sucks and is downright brutal. What they want is fiction that recognizes that. That personifies that.

They want heroes and heroines they can identify with, who feel like every bit as much of a freak as every teenager on earth feels. Heroes and heroines who get thrown into impossible, awful situations and work their way through them. They want heroes and heroines who are strong or who manage to find their strength over the course of the story such that they overcome horrific odds and challenges to triumph in the end.

They want hope.

That has always been one of the primary functions of fairy tales. Apart from the usual implied moral or lesson built into the tales that have been passed down generation to generation for centuries. Apart from the entertainment. Most of these original fairy tales, in their un-watered-down versions, were intended to show that light conquers dark. That there is an order to the world. Bad things happen, yes, but heroes acknowledge that and conquer. Because audiences need to believe that they themselves can overcome their personal challenges or that someone will save them. They need that hope.

And that’s why I think young adult as a genre has exploded with such raging popularity. Because all these dark stories give that hope in new and inventive ways that appeal to teens and grownups alike.

Long live the dark. Long live the light.

Kait Nolan is stuck in an office all day, sometimes juggling all three of her jobs at once with the skill of a trained bear—sometimes with a similar temperament. After hours, she uses her powers for good, creating escapist fiction. The work of this Mississippi native is packed with action, romance, and the kinds of imaginative paranormal creatures you’d want to sweep you off your feet…or eat your boss. When she’s not working or writing, she’s in her kitchen, heading up a revolution to Retake Homemade from her cooking blog, Pots and Plots.

Kait's debut YA paranormal, Red, is currently available from Smashwords, Amazon, Amazon UK, Amazon DE, Barnes and Noble, the iBookstore, and All Romance EBooks.

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