Where Did All These Fantasy Books for Teens Come From?
From Harry Potter to The Hunger Games, YA novels have taken over the world.
In 2000, the New York Times did something rather peculiar: It deliberately took the Harry Potter series, with all its Quidditch, muggles, and wizards, off the New York Times bestseller list in one magical poof.
At the time, author J.K. Rowling was about to release a fourth book in the series — and the previous three books had been holding the top spots on the list for over a year and a half.
So why would the New York Times do such a thing?
Fifteen years later, the answer appears to have a lot to do with the world we are living in now: a world where the Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, can sell more than 50 million copies and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight more 100 million, where Veronica Roth’s Divergent series is midway through a trilogy of movies, and the Maze Runner, by James Dashner, is now a movie, too.
The New York Times somehow knew the Harry Potter series was just the start of this YA fantasy phenomenon. So when it cut Rowling’s books from its list, it had something new and radically different in mind: the first ever list for children’s bestselling novels — and the first major change to the New York Times bestseller list in 16 years.
On one hand, such a move was a convenient way to free up the adult list for books other than Harry Potter. On the other hand, it was an early acknowledgement of what is now very true: YA fantasy books are major sellers in their own right.
But here’s the strange thing: YA fantasy wasn’t a new genre. The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley, A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle, His Dark Materials series, by Philip Pullman, and The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis, are all older books that existed before the label.
There was a time, in the 1700s, when the novel itself was considered a genre, an offshoot from the more serious histories and biographies that were the bestsellers of their time. Now, one can hardly imagine the novel in such a light. But it’s this kind of repeated struggle to comprehend what a book should be classified as – and what it could be – that continuously perforates not only publishing but pop culture.
For all the current buzz around YA books, what makes them really stand out is the one thing that’s so rare for any single book or genre to do: It’s brought everyone together to read it. And that is no simple feat.