YA offers so many great stories across all genres and I’m constantly pulled in. Lately, it’s within contemporary realistic fiction. Why is that? Well, I have a theory…
As readers, we want to see a bit of ourselves in a story, even when we’re actively escaping our world. How many of you have read a book and loved it on some level because of a shared personality trait with the main character? You didn’t have to like the character, or relate to their situations — in fact, their personal circumstances could be vastly different from your own. But you still feel a connection.
We want validation of our experiences here and now or from when we were younger. Seeing another character experience something we experienced/are experiencing reminds us we’re not alone.
So what prompted this post in the first place?
I just finished reading The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, out in stores the end of March. I thought it would be impossible to top my Book Boyfriend Matt Finch from Lord’s debut, Open Road Summer, but it happened. Max Watson is it. He reminded me so much of my type in high school (and now, let’s be real): well-dressed but slightly dorky, a nerd and proud of it without being condescending (he’s all about Firefly and Quiz Bowl, but he’s not arrogant or a brainiac), a great listener and down for conversations and activities with you and your friends. Just…good, smart guy.
But before I continue to gush about him, there’s Paige, the protagonist in Lord’s novel. She constantly plans ahead, creates a list of happy things to get her out of her grief, is a bookworm and a bit of a nerd herself, and fancies the idea she could date the charismatic boy in her grade. Um…me. All me. Toss in the fact this book is basically set in my hometown (literally — its rival schools are my high school’s rivals) and I was locked in and in love.
The reality of YA contemporary fiction: finding pieces of yourself in modern books.
I’ve said this before about several books, though, haven’t I? That I loved the book because the character reminded me of me. But that’s exactly the appeal of contemporary fiction. Several books come to mind that reveal different parts of who I am and who I was. And I love them dearly for it.
Shyness, racing thoughts, writing letters to express emotions. Lara Jean was me at fifteen. I was shy around boys, my thoughts constantly jumping to conclusions, alternate realities, and worst-case-scenarios. Because of that, I always wrote things down. Every little thing that happened each day was written in a notebook, most especially the things I wanted to say to the guys I crushed on.
Nostalgic, not-so-spontaneous, dependable. Allyson was stuck on a big event in Paris while she went abroad and it left her hanging for a year. But that worry and concentration over one particular day is a sense of nostalgia. I’m very much a nostalgic person, especially when it comes travel. And, like Paige in The Start of Me and You, I prefer to have whole weeks planned out. Allyson was the same way. Because of that, she’s seen as a dependable person. I never saw that as a bad thing, but it’s certainly a character trait we share.
Fandom immersion, social anxiety. Cath was and is me in these respects. While I am better than most introverts in social situations, I’m still sweating and shaking underneath it all. A friend of mine in college summed up this introvert-who-can-work-a-room quality perfectly: “I hate crowds and small talk, it makes me feel sick. But it’s a survival tool. If you told me I had to be the fastest runner in the world in order to get away from that bear, then by God I’m gonna be the fastest runner in the world.” Now put me in a room full of people obsessed with my own obsessions, and this little fangirl is as happy as a clam!
Overanalyzing, awkward, obsessively clean. Anna was like my giggly spirit, tapping into my girly side. But at the same time, she could be very awkward (and recognize it, but still dig deeper, more awkward holes), and she was constantly assessing the tiniest situations. Not to mention straightening things without realizing it. That, right there, is me my entire life.
YA contemporary connects us to others, fictional or otherwise, that remind us who we are and what we can do about our own lives. What steps can we take to achieve our goals? What Would [Your Favorite Character] Do? How would we do something different in a similar situation? The more YA I read, the more I find myself drawn to contemporary fiction because it helps me on my own personal journey — recognizing and accepting my flaws, making sense of my past and forging my future.
What are your thoughts on YA contemporary fiction? Which character is most like you? Does this happen to you across other genres?
4 thoughts on “Finding Yourself in YA Contemporary”
I definitely identified with how naïve Lara Jean is, that was exactly how I was in high school. I also identify with Cath’s social anxiety, but not so much the fanfiction. Great post 🙂
Great post, Laura! Although I haven’t read enough contemporary YA to see myself in it, I can understand the appeal. What you said about nostalgia made me think of Rowell’s wonderful Eleanor and Park: even though I didn’t particularly see myself in either of the protagonists, the novel made me nostalgic for my teenage years in the 80’s!
See? That’s another thing books — of any genre for any targeted age group — can do. They make you connect through nostalgia, even if you don’t particularly like/relate to a character/situation. You’re still pulled in.
Laura @ canido52
Great post Laura (great name too!) I love YA fiction, it is kind of like a walk down memory lane and sometimes you get to rewrite the bits you floundered through, champion the cause of your mirror self or just laugh at the lows and mistakes because they won’t be yours anymore.