Mar 15, 2013

March Genreflecting: Issues: The Details

Genreflecting wordle

Based on the Collins English Dictionary, a subgenre is "a category that is a subdivision of a larger genre." (Source) Issues is quite a broad topic for analysis because of the myriad types of issues that can be faced in any given book. What these books all agree on is the difficulty of the subject matter. That doesn't mean that the subject matter is inappropriate, on the contrary it is usually quite relevant, it's just that the books can take an emotional toll on the reader. Three broad subgenres can be defined as physical/mental/emotional concerns, social concerns, & hard life. 

As listed in Teen Genreflecting (2003), here are some of the most popular topics under these subgenres:
1. Physical/mental/emotional concerns:
  • sexual identity
  • (terminal) illness
  • mental and behavioral problems
  • pregnancy
2. Social concerns
  • racism
  • gangs
  • crime & criminals
3. Hard life
  • abuse (physical, emotional, sexual)
  • "in the system"
  • homelessness
  • missing & exploited
One of my favorite authors that exemplifies a few of these subgenres is Laurie Halse Anderson. Her books Speak and Wintergirls are shining examples of just how powerfully these books can speak for themselves and the situations they represent. Each character in these novels had to face the reality of their situation and make a choice. Here, Laurie talks about how that happens:


To be honest, I don’t think about it much. I focus on creating situations that force the character out of her comfort zone, raising the emotional stakes as I go along. If I’ve developed conflicts that are organic and in keeping with the character’s world, her response to the conflicts will naturally lead to internal growth.

From Laurie Halse Anderson's FAQs

Nancy Werlin puts her writing choice into a different light in her downloadable guide to The Rules of Survival. She has chosen to give a voice to those who otherwise might be overlooked.

While I was lucky enough to grow up with loving, responsible parents, as an adult I encountered someone like Matt’s mother, Nikki Walsh. I ended up doing a good deal of thinking about what it might be like for a child to be in the power of someone like that. 

The Rules of Survival is "told" by Matthew to his little sister Emmy. This approach was deliberate artistic choice to try to involve the reader more intensely into the story. If "you," hearing the story, are not only yourself but are also a five year old girl...a child in danger...that does things to your emotions as reader that cannot be done when you are reading as an outside observer.

This is a realistic novel. There are children and indeed, adults, who are prey to people like Nikki Walsh. Many readers have written to tell me that they grew up in circumstances like those in the book. It's not always the mother, of course. More often, frankly, it is the father. Sometimes, it is a boyfriend, a husband, or a wife. It might be a sister or brother who terrorizes the family.

Those are just a couple of the hundreds of authors that you can chose to read if you like these types of books. I personally find them arduous, but more rewarding than most of the other things I read. I have to be in a mood to be taken down and brought back up otherwise it just doesn't have the same impact.

How about you? Do you have any favorite authors in these subgenres? Which one do you prefer to read and why? Stick around for my review of Annie on my Mind next Friday!


tammy216 said...

I agree about having to be in the right mood to read these types of books. If I'm not the stories tend to fall flat for me. I do enjoy reading stories that focus on the hard life subgenre and those are the stories that usually hit me the hardest emotionally. I don't think I have a favorite author for this genre, I usually pick books off of recommendations.

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