Why Genre Fiction Is More Important Now Than Ever
Hey there! I'm Elizabeth Spencer, author of the YA fantasy Justice Unending! Today, Christine's asked me to write about something pretty big: why is YA fiction so necessary in these angry, turbulent times?
And… oh. Phew. That's a big one.
No matter what you believe or where you live, 2016 has not been anyone's idea of fun. It's been a year full of prominent deaths, high tensions, big politics, and a constant undercurrent of divisive rhetoric. There's a sense of utter dread on the Internet these days—an undercurrent of fear and anger that seems to haunt every passionate social media thread, every unintentionally political comment section, and every forum you'll ever visit.
And this, I think, is when we need genre fiction the most.
Stories are magical—I mean, that's why humans have been telling them for as long as we've had words. Stories do amazing things for our souls. They comfort us. They help us understand our feelings. They help us feel like we're not alone.
It's easy to argue for the importance of literary fiction. They're the stories that look at all the hard issues in the world—at discrimination and hatred, fear and prejudice.
But I… actually don't write literary. I write action adventures. I write fantasy—the fun, fluffy kind—with magic, immortal spirits, giant steam-powered machines, and battles that involve ten-year-old girls flying around and shooting arrows at people. And in times like these, it's tempting to say that this is not particularly helpful—that it's just fluff, and not the life-changing kind.
But that's really not true. Genre fiction is just as important as the big, heavy stuff. Here's why.
I recently published a YA steampunk fantasy called Justice Unending. It's about a teenage girl in a faux-Victorian society who is having a delightful time being a tomboy when her sister is possessed by one of the immortal spirits who rule over their country. This is an incredible honor for Faye's family—except it also means that Faye's sister will die so this spirit can use her body as she pleases. And when Faye decides to see her sister one last time, she stumbles on a dead man, his murderer, and things go terribly, horribly wrong.
This is the kind of story I self-medicate with. There are times when you want to get neck-deep into a deeply important, monumentally critical issue, when you want to be afraid and angry and overwhelmed so you can do something about it.
But sometimes you just want to watch someone fight, and survive, and win their happy ending. See, genre fantasy does some magnificent things:
Genre fantasy gives us hope. In action adventure fantasy it's a time honored tradition to make your characters' lives as utterly miserable as possible. And it's great! Sometimes we need to read about people overcoming huge obstacles to remind us that we, too, can overcome our own. Maybe we won't be fighting immortals in this world, but we all have challenges—and when we imagine our heroes with that kind of strength, it reminds us that we have it, too.
Genre fantasy shows us ourselves. And holy moly, is that ever important for young adult fiction. It's hard enough to discover who you are when the world doesn't feel like it's going up in flames. It's important—now more than ever—to show that there are lots of heroes in this world, of all shapes and sizes and types, who are still succeeding and surviving. And so can we!
They bring us together. I mean, seriously, have you seen fandoms? Have you seen the way a single piece of art brings people together? In a world where there are so many things that keep us apart, it's important to remember that we're not all that different—we all love engrossing tales and wonderful characters, and we can all find common ground in the things we love.
We've all almost survived 2016. And for me, it's the genre novels—the adventures, the little triumphs, and the happy endings—that are going to be what get me through these crazy times.
And I hope, no matter what you read, novels will be a refuge for you, too.
Elizabeth Spencer is the author of Justice Unending, a YA steampunk fantasy available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the Evernight Teen website. You can read more about her novels and short storieson Elizabeth-Spencer.net