One of the sessions I went to at the YA Lit Symposium was about genre blending. Teri Lesesne and Rosemary Chance moderated the panel, but first they booktalked a number of new books that they had identified as “collapsing boundaries.” Their PowerPoint is here. Then they had three panelists: Helen Frost, A.S. King, and Scott Westerfeld, all of whom talked about the ways their own work–and that of others–crossed the usual boundaries of specific genres.
They all had fascinating things to say. Scott Westerfeld, you’ll be pleased to hear, is not at all a fan of the novel that wraps up all the loose ends neatly. He would be on your side of the ambiguous ending debate. He also talked about the way that genres, or familiar themes, signal something to the reader about what to expect, whether it’s a mystery, a romance, science fiction, or whatever. But blending those things can create something that is new in its own away. He talked about The Hunger Games and how yes, it’s a dystopia, but it’s also political and social satire, and a romance, and near-future science fiction, and a gladiator story, and a survival adventure.
But the whole session got me thinking about the whole concept of blending genres. Of course, any decent novel is going to have more than one thing going on, but I really wonder if there’s more experimentation along these lines going on in young adult fiction than anywhere else.
It can be done on a limited scale in children’s fiction, but you run into the danger of overcomplicating things to the point where you lose a child reader. And adults, as Westerfeld pointed out, tend to like the comfort of their chosen genre. I certainly knew lots of library patrons who only read mysteries, or romances, or thrillers, or whatever. In fact, I know plenty of mystery readers who only read cozies, or police procedurals. I mean, that’s why we make up those book lists and displays: “Science Fiction for People Who Don’t Like Science Fiction” and that sort of thing.
I think speculative fiction has always been strong on collapsing boundaries. I have read many a science fiction novel that is also a mystery or a romance, and many a fantasy that is also a political novel. But then again, teens have always been big consumers of speculative fiction, whether it was written for adults or teens. (There’s the famous quotation from Peter Graham: “The golden age of science fiction is 12.” I thought that came from the editor John W. Campbell, but the interwebs seem to think it was Graham.)
So, what do you think? Are teens and the YA publishing world more open to these blends? Of course, I should also note that at the same time I was listening to this discussion on blurring genres, across the hall there was a session on great contemporary realistic fiction! But that just verifies my firm belief that YA transcends genre and that it has something for every reader.