Sunday, February 16, 2014

More than Issue Books- a mini-rant- and Give-Away!

Attention readers, an ARC of Courtney Steven's fantastic Faking Normal will be given to someone who comments on this post. Pray that it's you, the book is that good! 

So, today I want to talk about issues, and issue books, and teenage issues, and most of all, how books get labelled. I guess my main point is to discuss my issues with the unofficial category of "issue book" and the book that I'm giving away today, Faking Normal, will be labelled and issue book by some. But I think that it's much more than that.

So what is my problem with issue books? Realistic YA is populated by teens who are coming of age. Therefore, they have issues. Have you been through puberty? Then you experienced a few issues. The teen years are huge developmentally, it's one of the reasons they offer writers such a wealth of opportunity.

But a teenager is not simply an issue, and therefore a (well-developed) teenage character is far more than just someone dealing with an issue.

The After-School Specials of Literature
To be fair, most of our teen audience will not understand the implications of calling issue books the after school specials of literature- sappy, over the top, and moral driven…that's what is suggested by after school special, and it's often implied by issue books. But teen readers are past reading for morals and most of the books that are categorized as issue books are so much more than that. 

There Can Only Be One
Another fault with issue books is that people have the misconception that there can only be one, that the "best" book is the one every library and bookstore should have, and after you've read it or stocked it, you don't have to worry about that issue anymore. We'll take suicide as an example. Certainly a pertinent issue, and one that's touched countless teen lives. 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher is by far the most popular and influential book that tackles the issue of suicide. But it isn't the only one, and it shouldn't be the only one. Readers may also enjoy The Program by Suzanne Young, 34 Pieces of You by Carmen Rodrigues, or countless other books. We can't throw out all the books that touch on this important topic because we 'already have one'.

Literature for Teens should be Fun Engrossing
I'm going to revise the above statement to Literature for Teens should be Engrossing. Teens are past being babied, they are learning about the real world. They want to know about real issues, and want them presented in interesting ways. All books have conflict. In contemporary realistic fiction, the conflicts center around coming of age and teen issues. But they are more than that. These books are stories that should resonate, entertain, force you to turn the pages, and stay with you long after you read them. 

I'm going to end this post by saying that I'm not going to review Faking Normal. I'm just going to tell you that whether you win an ARC from us, or just have to go buy it at your local bookstore, you want this book. I read it months ago and am still thinking about it. 

The contest- I'm not difficult- discuss my topic of issue books--or if it's been a tough week and you don't even want to do have a discussion-- just tell me how much you want this ARC. I'll randomly draw a name, and someone will win the book! If you could leave your email in the comments that would be awesomely helpful! 


Eden Jean said...

I feel like the "issue books" thing is pretty unrealistic. I mean, are the people who label books that way adults? If so, that means they were teenagers once, right? Sometimes I can't believe that they were. I am continuously shocked at reviews of so-called "issue books" by adults who apparently were never teens themselves. It's so weird! Anyway, it's great that you're having this discussion, keep it up!

Kristin Lenz said...

I've never really understood the "issues book" label.

Thanks for introducing us to Faking Normal and I'm so curious now. The PW review includes this: "an ending so surprising that some readers may flip back to the beginning to start fresh."

Amanda Morgan said...

I have never real looked at or considered something to be an issue book - I think it's a bit silly for books to be classified as such. Besides, shouldn't all books be issue books?

Also I def want FAKING NORMAL. :)

Michelle Lee said...

This sounds like such a beautiful story. The description of Faking Normal makes me want to go read it already. The love story sounds sweet and my heart is already aching for the things these characters go through. I've heard many recommendations from many readers/ reviewers. They said the characterizations are wonderfully done and the story will take you through a plethora of emotions from beginning to end. I love reading an edgy, realistic, and utterly captivating novel. I'm very looking forward to reading it. Thank you so much for this amazing giveaway! :)
contact email:

Janine said...

I think the problem with labeling books "issue" books is partly because then it feels like a therapy session. So if you think you "need" that book for some reason you read it, because you have a friend dealing with that issue, or because you are...but what if that's something you don't want to think about? The brilliance of a well-written book is it opens you to lives and thoughts and feelings you might not have encountered or experienced in your everyday life. I recently read a book dealing with foster children. If it had been marketed that way, as a book to help you be more aware of the plight of foster children, I wouldn't have picked it up. But it was story, and I wanted to read that story, and it was also about foster children and now I feel like I know a little piece about something in a way I didn't before.

Bottom line, I guess, is I don't often pick up fiction with the purpose to become a Better Person. I want to read a good story. By being labeled an "issue" book it loses the ability to just be a story. It is now Teaching You About Something...

Also, I am excited to read Faking Normal.

Rachael Allen said...

Totally agree with you about the "There can only be one" philosophy. People don't connect with books the same way, so we need a variety of voices on the same issues. Also, what Janine said. A book has to have a lot more than An Issue for me to keep reading. I think teens can sense that too - no one wants a soap box packaged as a YA book.

Really loved this post and really excited for FAKING NORMAL!!

Jamie Blair said...

In the end, doesn't "Issue" really just mean conflict - inner conflict primarily - and all books have conflict, so to label a book an issue book is saying, "Hey, this book has a plot!" :) Don't they all?

Kate B. said...

We write what we write, and then it gets marketed and shelved. Hopefully that process doesn't diminish it to a particular cause or issue, because good stories and characters are complex! Astute post, Bethany.

Can I haz FAKING NORMAL, please?

tammy216 said...

I remember when I was a teen and went to the bookstore and saw the "issue" books and I thought what you did. I compared them to after school specials and thought there would be some big moral lesson and honestly I avoided those books. I didn't feel like reading books that were trying to teach me some major life lesson. I just wanted to read and enjoy something. Now that I'm a little older I know better than to label books like that, but I do think that labeling is a big disadvantage.

And I definitely want to read Faking Normal, I've heard some great things about it :) letty1614(at)yahoo(dot)com