5 YA Novel Concepts That Would Break NYC

I read books I don’t want to read all the time.

Before I started writing, I had this magical ability to throw away a book I wasn’t enjoying. It felt like a super power. Is a child being sexually abused? Toss it in the bin! A scene in which the protagonist is waking up naked with a hangover? To the dump it goes! Have I come across more than three characters vomiting (yes I realize this is a very specific pet peeve)? You are kicked to the curb, sir! I then would forget the offending fiction with a Nero Wolfe novel, and within hours all would be forgot.

Not so for Writer Emily.

“Know your genre!” Famous authors sneer at me while flicking their uncombed hair from their faces. “Read, read, and read even more!” the sages of publishing chant through the internet channels. Well, I’m a Catholic, and therefore obedient. But I don’t have to be sweet about it … did I mention I’m Catholic?

Here are some outrageous ideas for the big publishing houses to ponder if they really want to break the YA mould. They are so revolutionary; they defy even the most capitalist of dictators in the most simplistic societies of the post-apocalyptic future.

1. A female protagonist who is hopelessly innocent … and it’s a good thing.

Maybe she trusts someone who betrays her, but it doesn’t shake her faith in people. Maybe she is genuinely in awe of people’s talents, and that inspires them to be worthy of their gifts. Maybe her innocence is not sullied by seeing the darkness of humanity, but made richer by her sympathy for those who have lost their way. Mark Twain was gaga over Anne Shirley but I mean what did he know?

2. A dystopian society that can’t be saved by teenagers.

Or how about teenagers that don’t already have all the tools they need just by being really athletic and cold-blooded?

 3. A first person narrative without a shred of snark.

Listen, I like snark more than most. But it’s gotten to the point where editors say, “I’m looking for a really FRESH VOICE” but really they just want first person narrative – preferably in present tense – in which the protagonist indicates they are actually not upset about something they should be upset about (terminal illness, dead family member, being sold as a slave ... you get it). How is a CATCHER IN THE RYE knock-off a fresh voice? I don’t know but I am plumb sick of it. Usually what happens is the first ten pages are like some off-Broadway monologue and the rest of the book is just the normal YA love triangle stuff. Let’s focus on the character and the story, shall we? Fresh voice … oy.

4. Marriage is the happily ever after.

Wait, WHAT? Marriage is evil bondage which deprives women of their mystical powers that somehow have nothing to do with giving birth! It’s the beginning of the end! Okay, well all the more reason to end your YA spec fic romance with a marriage so the sequel can be a super dark domestic abuse novel. Just kidding you are stupid marriage saved my life and will save my soul but we should talk in private about that.

5. A YA novel set in pre-20th century America.

Okay this may seem like a real curveball, but think about it: all the agents and editors are begging for non-Western settings, right? "How cliché! Give me Queen Guinevere in Taiwan! I need more Russian-folklore inspired fantasies!" Why all this embarrassment about our cultural roots? And what about American history in particular? Our teens know little of it. And what they do learn is taught with such a slant that it probably doesn’t even seem like it happened at all. Thanks to Masterpiece Theatre, I know more about British history than I do American history. YA fiction can change that, because it’s one of the most read genres in our country. Just sayin’, then we’d be able to navigate present political discussions with a little more knowhow.


There you have it. The big publishing houses are like, “Oh my grapes, Emily, you’ve completely stopped us in our tracks. Where are our interns and their vintage tote bags so we can get the ball rolling on this?”

<I lean forward in a Jedi bow>

Ranting is fun. We have fun.