Talking about YA and Women’s Fiction

impossible Sometimes behind the scenes some of us at AAR like to compare notes on books we’ve read or urge our friends to read some of the books we’ve enjoyed the most. Leigh and Maggie started chatting about their shared love of YA and of women’s fiction recently and this is what they had to say about it:

Leigh:The series of blogs on diversity lately had me wondering about why I am drawn to a certain type of book. While I enjoy contemporary romances, I am also drawn to Chick Lit and Women’s Fiction. Last year out of the thirteen books classified as women’s fiction reviewed here, I reviewed eight of them. Thinking of women’s fiction books, I realized that YA incorporates the same attributes(strong female leads, stories that aren’t necessarily traditional romance but involve romantic elements, focus on character growth, etc..) but I rarely venture into YA unless I know the author. However, Maggie is my opposite, reading lots of YA while also enjoying some Women’s Fiction. Wouldn’t it be interesting to discover why we are drawn to similar but different genres? Luckily Maggie agreed and here we are.

Maggie: It is a bit ironic to me that in my adult life I read YA when as a teen I avoided it like the plague. I think I owe that to the fact that YA right now is attracting the best science fiction and fantasy authors, and I have been a fan of that genre since I was about six years old. My current YA love began with the book that attracted many to this market, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. My son was interested in the book, so I picked it up, flipped through it thinking I’d just do a quick look and wound up reading the first four books in one weekend! Then I saw the Artemis Fowl books shelved next to the Potters and got hooked on those. When I discovered Twilight I was sunk; it had the perfect blend of romance and paranormal for me.

Leigh: I can’t say that I ever even thought of reading YA until Rachel reviewed a Sarah Dessen book here. Rachel and I agreed on many books, so I went to my local library and checked it out. I found the book magical-containing all the relationship problem solving aspects that women’s fiction books have. Although, it sounds like the big hook for you is the science fiction/fantasy aspect?

Maggie: Yes, one of the big hooks for me initially was the science fiction/fantasy aspect. Excellence in writing is another. I love the way both J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer turn a phrase, but I have in many books been attracted by the character growth and the development of the romance. For example, in Alex Flinn’s A Kiss in Time, Talia and Jack figure out they are in love by realizing how deeply they have gotten to know each other. Along with the passion came intense relationship building. Too often in romance the relationship building is the passion. I appreciate heat in a story but for an HEA, I require real emotion. What first got you started reading women’s fiction?

Leigh: You know I can’t really pinpoint it to one book. I have a real issue with “Tah dah!” magical endings. Don’t get me wrong, I love happily every after’s, but if there are real roadblocks to it then I want to see the steps that the characters take to overcome those obstacles. I think that is one reason I don’t do tortured hero or heroines very well, because usually there is this, “blinded by the light, Saul to Paul” conversion. But women’s fiction to me has very real building blocks to character growth. Plus the focus is more empirical. And I just like seeing all sides of a heroine’s life – more of her friendship, her career, her family than just the emphasis on romance.

Maggie: One problem I have is that what YA is is very clear to me. However, Women’s Fiction blends into romance for me and they’re harder to differentiate. For example, Susanna Kearsley is a romance writer to me but I think she is not according to RWA’s definition. How do you differentiate romance and women’s fiction?

Leigh: Honestly I don’t differentiate between them. It’s more like the books I read are on a continuum with various degrees of relationship building, romance, friendship and issues. I’ll read a couple of light books then I tend to move to the more serious ones and then back to the light and funny. I think that is why my favorite books have both aspects to them. They address issues, but also make me laugh. I think that women’s fiction books are about the storytelling with strong character growth and slower development of the romance. Some could say that the struggle or conflict is internal not external. Sure, I read series books growing up but I also read about strong girls/women that courageously faced adversity in a matter of fact way. And that is also my familial history. You don’t moan and groan about your problems –as Dory would say “you just keep swimming.” Do you find that true about Y.A. books?

Maggie: In YA you have many different types of heroine – there is the strong heroine like Katniss Everdeen of the Hunger Games books who never whines about her problems and tackles them head on. There is the grouchy heroine like Saba of Blood Red Road who is like, “God damn it, I don’t need this. I’m poor, my dad’s just been killed, my brother’s kidnapped and now my seven year old sister has followed me and I gotta take care of her while attempting a rescue.” So Saba complains, but she juggles it all. She never backs away from her challenges. Then you have Bella from Twilight who is an everygirl and whose strength is her tenacity. One thing that does separate YA from romance in this regards is that the heroine’s journey must end in growth. Katniss learns she is not Wonder Woman and that she needs others. Saba learns to love and receive help. Bella gets her super powers. Sometimes in romance it seems like the heroine gets the reward without the work, which can be frustrating.

Leigh: Exactly! Many times in romance because of the heroine’s appearance (beautiful) or this explosive passion or the hero’s sixth sense that she is the one the heroine doesn’t have to do a thing. You have already mentioned some YA books that you love. Are these the books that you would recommend to someone who has never read a YA book before?

Maggie: For people who only read romance I would recommend Impossible by Nancy Werlin, anything by Alex Flinn except Bewitching, the Twilight books by Stephanie Meyer, Chalice and Rose Daughter by Robin Mckinley, and Snow White and Rose Red and Sorcery and Cecilia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede. All of these books are primarily romances with a bit of magic. What do you recommend for romance fans in women’s fiction?

Leigh: I am big fan as you are of Sarah Addison Allen. Any of her books are great. Emilie Richards’ books are always a favorite, but you have to be careful because sometimes in her series the books build on each other. I just re-discovered Pamela Morsi in the last year. I always associated her with historicals, but her women’s fiction stories are extremely moving and funny. Most of these authors have had books reviewed here at AAR, so readers can use the power search page to find the reviews and books.

Do you read YA or women’s fiction books? If so what appeals to you about them? How did you get started reading in this genre? What authors do you recommend?

– Maggie Boyd and Leigh Davis

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22 Responses to “Talking about YA and Women’s Fiction”

  1. AAR Lynn says:

    I hadn’t thought about it, but I do agree that women’s fiction and YA are both good places to find books centered around strong heroines. Some of the best chick lit has that, too. I like my books to have interesting heroines, so jumping over to these genres isn’t too much of a stretch for me.

    One thing I am curious about – a lot of women’s fiction that I’ve read reads as mainstream fiction centered around the growth of a central female character(s) so it tends to irk me that publishers/stores classify these “women’s books” as their own genre rather than just calling them mainstream fiction with everything else. What do folks think of that?

    • Maria D. says:

      I don’t know so much about the publisher’s categorizing them or about the brick and mortar stores but I know for ebooks that customer’s can go in and tag books and that helps a book get slotted into certain recommend type searches…it’s very annoying to have a book in the wrong category for me but I just deal with it best as I can

    • NBLibGirl says:

      Great essay in the New York Times Review of Books, March 30, 2012 by Meg Wolitzer asking this very question (see “On the Rules of Literary Fiction for Men and Women”): if it is about women or told from a woman’s point of view it is “Women’s Fiction” or “Chick Lit” but literary fiction if written/narrated by a man or about a man’s point of view/life. . .
      http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/books/review/on-the-rules-of-literary-fiction-for-men-and-women.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

  2. Marianne McA says:

    I’d read more YA than woman’s fiction.

    I’ve a bit of a prejudice against woman’s fiction – if I read the back of a book and it’s about an older woman in an unhappy marriage, I just never want to read it. And I think that’s my image of the whole genre – I imagine it’s about women coming to terms with the realities of life – less than happy marriages, children leaving home, illness, bereavement – and I don’t want to read a fictionalised account of the unhappinesses of ordinary life.

    But maybe, since I don’t read much in the genre, that’s unfair.

    YA, I never stopped reading. I do read an amount of magic and fantasy YA, but that’s just because there’s a lot of it out there: I don’t read it for those elements. And it doesn’t have to be romantic either. (Though, as a romance reader, one thing I really like about YA romances is that they avoid one-size-fits-all-relationships idealised romance novel sex. There might be lots of sex, or no sex, but if it’s there it’s because the story requires it, not just because it’s a convention of the genre.)

    • maggie b. says:

      Marianne McA: I’d read more YA than woman’s fiction.
      I’ve a bit of a prejudice against woman’s fiction – if I read the back of a book and it’s about an older woman in an unhappy marriage, I just never want to read it. And I think that’s my image of the whole genre – I imagine it’s about women coming to terms with the realities of life – less than happy marriages, children leaving home, illness, bereavement – and I don’t want to read a fictionalised account of the unhappinesses of ordinary life.
      But maybe, since I don’t read much in the genre, that’s unfair.

      This isn’t true of the genre anymore. I’m not sure exactly why Sarah Addison Allen is classified women’s fiction (more emphasis on heroine maybe?) but her gals are single and wind up in HEA’s. I would definitely give her a try. Don’t start with Sugar Queen. The mom in that is a witch who should be burned at the stake.

  3. Nancy Werlin says:

    I’m delighted to find Impossible recommended here. Maggie, thanks for telling me. It’s absolutely true that if you like women’s fiction, you will probably find a lot of books to love in the YA section. It’s also true that the entire YA fiction field has exploded in the last few years and in particular, if you are now 30+, then you will be astonished at the difference between now and when you were a teen.
    best,
    Nancy Werlin
    P.S. Maggie, I’ve just finished writing the sequel to Impossible.

    • Maggie AAR says:

      OMG! You are kidding. I can’t wait to read it! Happy dancing all over the house.

      I know I am not the only fan here as Rachel did a blog on the audio of this book http://www.likesbooks.com/blog/?p=2982. This is one of the few books I own in both audio and paper form as well as e-book. For those who prefer to listen the audio on this novel is excellent. And if you haven’t read it I strongly recommend trying it. Impossible is an incredible read.

      • emmel says:

        A sequel to Impossible? Wonderful news–can’t wait to read it. Maggie, I’ll second you on this book. It’s a great read–both I and my teenaged daughter read it last week and adored it. And it’s a great pick for romance readers who are willing to venture into YA.

        • Nancy Werlin says:

          Thanks, Maggie and Emmel. I am happy to report that I am working on final editorial notes to the Impossible sequel right now, and the book has a name: UNTHINKABLE. Look for it next fall!

          Nancy

  4. Maria D. says:

    Well, I’ll be upfront and say that I really don’t read much YA. Yes, I read the Harry Potter books and they were good and I did read The Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer but unlike Maggie- I felt that Bella was a whinny character and her dependence on Edward was destructive in my view – I didn’t see her as strong, I saw her as codependent. I haven’t read any of the other YA authors yet – though I have to say that I enjoyed the Hunger Games movie so much that I’m slowly buying the ebooks of that series to read back to back.

    I do on the other hand enjoy women’s fiction – I prefer that it has some romance in it but the romance doesn’t have to be the central point and I think that’s what differentiates it from contemporary romance. I think Women’s Fiction (hate the label chick-lit) has to be about the growth of at least the primary female character in the story – and she has to grow in more than just a romance. She has to come to terms with who she is as a human being, who she is as a woman (which is separate) and who she wants to be. Making friendships along the way and mentoring or helping other women is also important. I love Sarah Addison Allen – I think she’s a great example of strong women’s fiction today. I’ve also enjoyed books by Isobel Wolff, Abby Drake, Bridget Asher, and Lisa Tucker.

    • Leigh says:

      Maria D.: Well, I’ll be upfront and say that I really don’t read much YA.Yes, I read the Harry Potter books and they were good and I did read The Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer but unlike Maggie- I felt that Bella was a whinny character and her dependence on Edward was destructive in my view – I didn’t see her as strong, I saw her as codependent.I haven’t read any of the other YA authors yet – though I have to say that I enjoyed the Hunger Games movie so much that I’m slowly buying the ebooks of that series to read back to back.I do on the other hand enjoy women’s fiction – I prefer that it has some romance in it but the romance doesn’t have to be the central point and I think that’s what differentiates it from contemporary romance.I think Women’s Fiction (hate the label chick-lit) has to be about the growth of at least the primary female character in the story – and she has to grow in more than just a romance.She has to come to terms with who she is as a human being, who she is as a woman (which is separate) and who she wants to be.Making friendships along the way and mentoring or helping other women is also important.I love Sarah Addison Allen – I think she’s a great example of strong women’s fiction today.I’ve also enjoyed books by Isobel Wolff, Abby Drake, Bridget Asher, and Lisa Tucker.

      I haven’t read any books by Abby Drake, Bridget Asher or Lisa Tucker. I will have to check them out.

    • maggie b. says:

      I think I am the only person in the world who doesn’t hate Bella. :-) This is because I never saw the books as being something for people to emulate. Bella’s parents are horrific – they have no clue who or what she is running around with. It was disgusting that she didn’t seem to feel complete without a man – when Edward was gone did she turn to her girlfriends? Nope. Latched onto the next boy like he was a life preserver and she was in a raging river. Should her mom and dad have interceded during her numerous mental health crisis? Damn straight. But I like Bella’s ordinariness. She was a goofy, messed up teen who lands on her feet. That makes it a feel good story for me.

      I think you will like Hunger Games. Katniss is definitely an ultra strong heroine.

      I am looking forward to Sarah Addison Allens Lost Lake. I am a teensy bit worried the long break will have affected her brilliance but I hope not.

      • Maria D. says:

        I’m anticipating Lost Lake too but I’ve learned the hard way not to over anticipate something so much that I let myself down and then blame someone else…

      • Julie says:

        I don’t hate Bella either! I wasn’t interested enough in the series to go beyond the second movie or the first book, but I don’t get all the Bella-hate, or Edward-hate for that matter. I didn’t see her as being obsessed with having “a man”, but with Edward himself. (And possibly even more so with the idea of gaining powers of her own; bit of a gold-digger is our Bella.) And his lurking around watching her sleep creeped me out less than most of the grabby behaviour adult paranormal heroes indulge in with their “soulmates.”

  5. Carol says:

    Would you guys consider Sophie Kinsella women’s fiction? I love her. For YA, so far I have liked the Hunger Games books, Twilight books and I just recently read Pride, Prejudice and Curling Rocks by Andrea Brokaw and I really enjoyed it.

    • LeeB. says:

      Carol: Would you guys consider Sophie Kinsella women’s fiction? I love her.

      I think Sophie Kinsella’s books can be termed chick lit or women’s fiction. But whatever genre, I really enjoy her books. She definitely can make me laugh.

      • Leigh says:

        LeeB.:
        I think Sophie Kinsella’s books can be termed chick lit or women’s fiction.But whatever genre, I really enjoy her books.She definitely can make me laugh.

        I am not really that fond of her Shopaholic books, but I have thoroughly enjoyed all of Sophie Kinsella’s other books. I keep watching for news of a new release by her but haven’t seen anything yet.

  6. Eggletina says:

    I don’t often read Women’s Fiction, but I do sometimes read YA, especially those with Mythic Fantasy elements. Some YA that I’ve enjoyed:

    Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series
    Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone (book one of a series to be continued)
    Ysabeau Wilce’s Flora Segunda series

    Some other YA authors I’ve enjoyed that spring to mind include Shannon Hale, Robin McKinley, and Holly Black. As you can see, I’m probably attracted to authors working with fairy tale elements.

    • AAR Lynn says:

      Oh, I loved The Queen’s Thief series! I found out about them from Rike and they were wonderful.

      I like books with fairytale elements, too. Have you read any of the Once Upon a Time series? I think Snow has been my favorite so far.

    • maggie b. says:

      Alex Flinn’s books are story tale retellings. Her book Beastly received a DIK here and so did Kiss in Time.

      Jessica Day George has three wonderful Fairy Tale books- Sun, Moon, Ice and Snow which retells the tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”. And she is telling the tales of the twelve dancing princesses – the first two are Princess of the Midnight Ball and Priness of Glass. Entwined by Heather Dixon also tells the story of the twelve dancing princesses.

      I loved Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days.

  7. NBLibGirl says:

    I read a lot of YA material (despite being quite a bit older than the target market) and believe that much of the very best fiction being published today is coming from writers the publishing industry categorizes as “YA” (e.g. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak was published initially in Australia as “fiction” but was quickly pigeonholed by US publishers as YA) because it is such a “hot” market segment. Romance readers interested in branching out might enjoy work by Sarah Dessen
    Deb Caletti (“Honey, Baby, Sweetheart” is my favorite)
    Alix Flinn
    Tamora Pierce

    “Graceling” by Kristin Cashore
    “The Fault in Our Stars” *and* “Will Grayson, Will Grayson” by John Green
    “A Posse of Princesses” by Sherwood Smith
    “Son of the Mob” by Gordon Korman
    “A Certain Slant of Light” by Laura Whitcomb
    “Blood Red Horse” by KM Grant
    “Flipped” by Wendy Van Draanen
    are all very different types of YA novels, satisfying reads, containing romantic relationships or exploring what love really is.

  8. NBLibGirl says:

    Oh, yeah. In the “women’s fiction” area I really enjoy Madeleine Wickham (aka Sophie Kinsella) (try Sleeping Arrangements), Joanna Trollope (Marrying the Mistress), and seocnd the recommendation for Pamela Morsi (many great books but Suburban Renewal and The Binkini Car Wash are two favorites that you don’t find in the romance section).

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