The YA publishing industry seems to have exploded over the last decade, likely due to the successes of titles such as Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games. How does one differentiate between the good and the not so good? Often readers turn to displays or to marketing. Others wait for a review from a friend. Unfortunately, there are a number of great writers and books that never get the respect they deserve, either because of a weak marketing campaign, poor publication timing (midyear, near another big title, inundated market for that type of book, etc.), or simply because the book just gets lost amid the shuffle.
Another big trend in the YA publishing industry is to make almost everything a series. Therefore, it seems even more shameful when a great book or author is not ignored, but his or her entire series flies too low under the radar. Here is a list of five series that really should be competing with the big names. Some of these have solid fan bases, but if you ask a random reader to tell you about The Hunger Games, he or she may be able to do so. Ask that same reader about Chaos Walking and you will see the problem!
1. Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness: This series consists of three amazing titles (Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men) and really it is just shameful that this is not one of the biggest names in teen fiction. A strange blend of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, war fiction, and the dystopian classics, Chaos Walking addresses topics as diverse as growing up, gender roles, the justification of violence in the name of peace, and the value of friendship. This series is heartbreaking, thought-provoking, and incredibly fast paced.
2. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor: Daughter of Smoke and Bone and its sequel, Days of Blood and Starlight, have been all over The New York Times. Even Neil Gaiman has said wonderful things about this series. Yet somehow when one walks through a major bookseller, it is not on an end cap, there are no signs advertising the series, and few major outlets seem to be pushing the books. This is unfortunate because more writers like Laini Taylor would be a great thing for literature and especially for YA fiction which is not always taken seriously enough.
3. Chemical Garden by Lauren DeStefano: This series just made the New York Times, but it is surprising it is not bigger. Wither, the first book, is the story of young girls being kidnapped and sold into marriage, forced to procreate in order to find a cure for a disease that kills men at 25 and women at 20. Fever and Sever take the characters through a series of tragic and important events and the reader is left shattered at the end. This is a good thing; writers who have that sort of command over their readers' emotions should be household names.
4. The books of Stephanie Perkins: Although Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door, and Isla and the Happily Ever After (coming this fall) each stand alone and can be read in any order, they are linked. Characters that appear in one make supporting appearances in the others. What gets Stephanie Perkins on to this list is the fact that she absolutely should not be on it! She is writing lovely romance novels with heart and humor. The increase in romance sales has been substantial lately but most of the sales are going to adult and New Adult titles; these titles are heavy on sex scenes and most have a fairly misogynistic tone. On the other hand, Perkins' novels remind readers of what it means to be in love, to be happy, and to be a complete person in AND out of a relationship. Teen girls need more characters like Anna and Lola.
5. Anything at all by Courtney Summers: To be fair, Summers does not write series. However, many series end poorly or there are movies being optioned and Summers needs to be on any underrated list. For every copy sold of Perks of Being a Wallflower, how many is Summers selling? It should be at least equal; her writing surpasses all of the "hit" teen fiction out there. Readers who want harsh and realistic teen fiction that addresses the chaos that goes on in high schools around North America should grab any of the first three books: Cracked Up to Be, Some Girls Are, or Fall for Anything. Her newest, This is Not a Test, is not a realistic novel due to its zombie storyline; however, Summers takes a completely different approach and the zombies barely even appear. Instead she focuses on the psychological damage of an apocalyptic event like a zombie attack. Courtney Summers probably captures the voice of damaged teen girls better than any writer since Sylvia Plath.
There are likely hundreds of authors and books that could make this list. Next time you stroll through Barnes and Noble, take a moment to look at the books that don't have a featured area. You may find the next great writer!