The Predominance of YA Speculative Fiction

Christian Fantasy

In a recent post on Novel Rocket, Mike Duran asked “why is Christian speculative fiction mostly YA?” He then proposed two possible answers. One, that YA speculative fiction fits better in the family friendly model of the Christian market since it can naturally omit common taboos. And two, that parents want to give their children/teens a Christian alternative to some of the popular YA fantasy in the general market.

Certainly, these two factors could play a role. Particularly pertinent I think is that parents want to find wholesome entertainment for their teens, and sometimes they view the Christian market as the best means to accomplish that.

Yet I can’t help but wonder how much of this trend is actually publisher driven–a mimicry of the trends taking place in the general market. Most of the breakout speculative novels in the general market right now are YA–the Hunger Games, Twilight, and from earlier years, Harry Potter. Other YA speculative novels, such as Veronica Roth’s debut Divergent have made instant leaps to the NYT bestseller list.

In general, I don’t hear the same level of buzz about adult speculative novels that I do about the YA titles. Might it be that Christian publishers are looking to connect with this group of avid readers and gain their share of the YA speculative market?

Beyond that, certain misconceptions about speculative fiction hinder some Christian adults from reading it, as one commenter illustrated:

“I’ll venture a guess. I think perhaps it’s because kids love fantasy. The world of a teen is fraught with angst, pimples, unrequited love, homework, a failing grade in math, raging hormones – who wouldn’t want an escape?

Adults have to live in reality. Ugh. I won’t even go into our reality. Sometimes we want an escape, but ours is more for hope in our situation … for the divorced or widowed, hope of love again. Well, you get the idea.”

There’s a common misperception that speculative fiction fails to deal with reality, that it’s somehow escapist in the negative sense, and it’s something that must be outgrown and left behind with childhood. This saddens me, because though I read in almost every genre, I frequently come away with more pertinent truths for real, everyday life from speculative fiction than I do from “realistic” fiction. Sometimes we need to step back and get a shift in perspective to see reality more clearly.

At any rate, if you combine this view of the speculative with a general wariness regarding the supernatural among many believers, it limits the growth of adult speculative fiction in the Christian market.

Though I enjoy YA fiction, I’m with Mike in wanting to see more adult speculative fiction (actually, more speculative fiction of every kind) in the Christian market. I do see some growth, but so far much of it is taking place with the smaller independent publishers, rather than the larger Christian houses. In time, I hope it will become more widespread.

Your thoughts?

Comments

  • Mary
    August 30, 2011 - 1:35 pm · Reply

    Yes, many Christians are very wary of speculative fiction, and I think a lot of it could be the fear of witchcraft/demonic or otherwise objectionable content. A lot of people I’ve spoken with also seem to have the idea that speculative fiction is not for adults but only for younger people. Perhaps some adults have the idea that they need to be responsible and mature and therefore can’t be taking wild, adventurous flights of fancy through the pages of a speculative novel? Who knows.
    I think the Holy Worlds Christian writers’ forum said it best: “Some stories are true that never happened.”

    • Sarah Sawyer
      September 2, 2011 - 5:08 pm · Reply

      Only recently have I begun to encounter this notion that speculative fiction is for the young. Perhaps because I grew up around adults–well-educated, well-read adults–who appreciated speculative fiction, such a notion never entered my mind. But it sounds like the idea is more widespread than I realized. I’ve found that when people who don’t normally read speculative give it a try, they’re shocked because they like it. 🙂

      I love the Holy Worlds quote…thanks for sharing!

  • Evangeline Denmark
    August 30, 2011 - 2:50 pm · Reply

    You know, I had a conversation about this very topic recently with a friend of mine who spent years as a CBA insider. We were lamenting my lack of progress with my adult speculative fiction and she said that that the adult CBA market is more afraid to ask “What if?” where as teens love to be faced with mind-boggling questions. Now, I certainly don’t think ALL adults are afraid of their fiction asking “What if?” questions, but I DO think the adults who AREN’T afraid of it are probably not shopping at Mardel and Family Christian Store. And that is probably why we see the CBA houses willing to take a few steps toward speculative YA but resisting most of the adult novels.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      September 2, 2011 - 5:23 pm · Reply

      How interesting, Evangeline. One of the reasons I love speculative is because of the “what ifs” and the exploration of the unknown, so I never thought of it being a con for some people, but it makes sense. I think you’re right in that the adults interested in this sort of fiction have long since stopped shopping at Christian bookstores, so until we find other effective means of getting the word out, it’s a bit of a self-perpetuating problem.

      Yet I’m hopeful that the surge in YA will eventually trickle to adult. We’ll see!

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller
    August 31, 2011 - 2:15 pm · Reply

    Great article, Sarah. I think you’re right — the YA general market is filled with speculative titles, so why shouldn’t the Christian market follow suit? I’m actually happy that Christian speculative fiction is sort of “catching up.”

    Also, the idea that adults outgrow “all that pretend stuff” I think does explain some of the disparity. Coupled with the fact that adults get caught up in job, family, ministry, and often read less than they used to (I read way less fiction in my early adult years), I think it’s understandable, though lamentable.

    I think you mentioned that adults do read the YA stuff, too, so I think that shows something — the YA authors are giving readers, regardless of age, something they want.

    Becky

    • Sarah Sawyer
      September 2, 2011 - 5:38 pm · Reply

      Becky, I’m happy about the catch up as well. Of course, I’ll be even happier when the Christian market begins to actually set trends. 🙂

      I agree with you that many YA authors are offering something that appeals to all ages. I’m among those who read YA alongside adult fiction, and I have many favorites that fall into that category. CS Lewis said, “It is certainly my opinion that a book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then”…and I share his opinion. Quality YA will appeal to adults and pre-teens/teens alike. On the flip side, I’ve been reading adult fiction since I was a child, and I think that’s the case for most avid readers. I’d like to see publishers realize that pre-teens and teens will read adult fiction–not only that which is traditionally considered YA.

      I think speculative fiction for adults often explores a different set of themes and brings a different dynamic to the reading experience, so something is missing when that’s absent. In an ideal world, I’d like to see speculative fiction of all kinds, YA and adult, thriving in the Christian market. 🙂

      • Rebecca LuElla Miller
        September 3, 2011 - 12:09 pm · Reply

        I’ll be even happier when the Christian market begins to actually set trends. Amen to that!

        I’d forgotten that quote. I need to keep it so I have it handy the next time Mike Duran brings up the subject of YA speculative fiction in the CBA. 😉

        I agree that publishers need to broaden their horizons — according to them, only women read, only tweeners read fantasy, adults only want supernatural suspense in the speculative genre. This all seems so very out of touch with our culture.

        Becky

        Becky

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