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