I have many thoughts on your recent post. First, I think you’re off on the number of Contemporary Realistic Fiction titles we’re looking at. Looking at my long list of 16 titles, I see:
- Pieces (I don’t remember any magic realism – readers correct me if I’m wrong)
- The Lucy Variations
- Reality Boy
- Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
That’s a pretty healthy chunk. Meanwhile, looking at Printz awardees, Beth Fama showed a pretty tremendous bias toward Contemporary Realistic last year, especially among the winners. It’s true that many of these center around more or less tragic events, but I think that is a somewhat separate issue from genre, closer to the issue which has come up on places like Someday My Printz Will Come with regard to the elusive Printz-worthy humor titles. For example, if you want romance this year, let’s look at Eleanor & Park, which is “historical” fiction in the sense that it takes place 30 years ago, and certainly involves some weighty issues, but nevertheless fits the bill of a romantic comedy fairly well.
To take it from another perspective, you say “It seems, though, that in order to be considered a ‘serious’ book, contemporary realistic fiction needs to have some really major tragic event going on.” But I would argue that the same applies to other genres as well. For example, among the 7.5 Historical Fiction titles on Beth’s list, we have 1.5 on World War II; 3 about slavery/race relations; 1 about a horrific murder; one about alcoholism and depression; and Revolver. Not a cheery group.
The fantasy titles are a bit better, but we still have tales of apocalyptic or dystopian societies; murderous horses; monsters; ghosts; and Margo Lanagan (twice).
So, I guess the point is that to be considered as “serious”, regardless of genre, a book needs to include some heavy-hitting, usually depressing, events and themes. Why that is is a whole other question that I think can probably be traced very far back in the history of Western (and possibly non-Western) art, which is a bit beyond the purview of this blog.