Where has the Hunger Games Taken YA?

by Thea Atkinson

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Like many readers, I’ve come to realize I like a good young adult novel now and then. It all started with Harry Potter, I think, and moved to the likes of Graceling and more recently, The Hunger Games trilogy.

My strange interest in young adult began to baffle me the more I read. After all, most of my own novels, and all of my short stories, are built around broken characters. Or more to the point, characters who are very much in the darkest times of their lives and who are struggling to find some light.

I have a few friends who even prefer not to read me because they can’t reconcile the person they know with my penchant for floundering around in the darkest parts of a character’s psyche.

It’s too much for them.

Enter Harry Potter. I was awestruck at the world JK Rowling created and found myself fighting with my daughter to read this series.

YA should be more light, I thought at the time, not driven by dark needs. Voldemort was deliciously evil and Harry – well, Harry was a little broken too. The series moved through some pretty dark issues, all hidden behind a light veil of the magic of being different.

I thought then how brave the author was to take children – yes, children – down some pretty dark alleyways, and in so doing, rewrite the genre.

Or so I thought.

When I read The Hunger Games series, I remember thinking: yes, it does have many of the hallmarks of what I thought were young adult. It has a little romance, a lack of real parenting presence, easy-to-read language, etc. But it had something else to.

It had darkness.

Children hunting other children and killing them for the amusement of an audience.

How dark is that? I mean, really.

Sure, the romance is kept to kisses and flirtations, there is no strong language, the graphic scenes are light on too-explicit details, but the premise is pretty darn dark.

Of course, that got my motor running.

I love to try writing in new genres. I think it keeps my writing muscles supple. And I always learn something – even if it’s that I’m not cut out to write in that genre.

Plus, I always gain a new respect for those authors when I see how hard something is that they make look remarkably easy.

You know where I’m going. You’ve seen me tweet and blog about it.

Water Witch is my first young adult novel – and it’s fantasy to boot. Two things that are outside my usual litfic arena, so it was doubly hard for me.

And doubly fun, too as it turns out.

At first, I thought I’d write Alaysha as she first appeared to me, but I soon realized that it was too far into her jaded timeline. I discovered that what drove me to write about Alaysha was how she got there in the first place.

Which meant I had to pull back.

  •  I picked her story up when she is 17. Seventeen meant young adult (I thought).
  •  Alaysha is a witch of a unique sort. Which meant fantasy (I thought).

And so the first in the series is born. Of course, there are some spots that a reader of mine would immediately recognize as typical Thea style (be that for the good or the bad. grin.)

The official launch date is April 30, but you can grab an advance e-copy for $.99 from Amazon if you like right now. Before it hits all of the other distributors like Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Sony, and Apple and goes up in price.

But do come back on launch day because I have a few pressies for you.

And tell your friends. I’d love to know how my new foray into the authorship world of TA Atkinson, young adult fantasy author, sits with you.


If you liked this post, please do share.

Thea is the author of several novels that she considers left of mainstream. You can find her on BN, Kobo, Sony, Apple

Anomaly by Thea Atkinson




Thea Atkinson is a writer of character driven fiction.

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10 comments on “Where has the Hunger Games Taken YA?
  1. I don’t have kids, but I find myself enjoying YA books these days as much as ‘adult’ fiction. I loved the Harry Potter series, despite a certain lack of sophistication in the writing, the stories are fantastic. I was surprised to find how dark it became, as my experience of kids books when I was a YA was that they were quite naive in terms of the themes they dealt with and certainly never broached evil and death in the way you find in current YA work.
    I do think this is a good move, provided these are balanced with their opposites and convey some level of optimism that may be hard for people to muster currently. Books should be enjoyed!
    So, I’ve just downloaded ‘Water Witch’ and look forward to reading it. It’s particularly interesting to me just now as my WIP (almost complete) is an Urban Fantasy about a water elemental trying to live as a human.

  2. dnkboston says:

    I read the Harry Potter series. I didn’t love it, but I wanted to be up on the cultural phenomenon. I did like books 2 and to some extent 6 because it spent a lot of time on Voldemort’s origins. I love that for the same reason my favorite episode of the X-Files was the one about the Smoking Man’s origins. No one, I believe, is born evil, so you want to know how someone arrived at it. And if it’s well-done, it’s a much better story than hacking through and to gore.

    I like your strategy of introducing us to a character at an early stage. Get us interested and we’ll want to find out what she does when she’s older and “adult”. I’ll be watching this, because I have a similar strategy with my manuscripts 🙂

    As for the darkness in YA now: frankly, I think the kids are eating this up because it reflects their feelings about the darkness in the world-at-large. The economy is bad and their parents probably aren’t feeling the recovery (in the US, if you’re poor you’re most likely young). Promises have been broken, by parents and by governments. This generation is being told very clearly that they may have to “rough it” much more than their grandparents or parents had to. It’s a Brave New World out there, and I’m sure many of them wish that their problems could be as easily solved as some of their favorite heroes/heroines. Who knows? Maybe the trials and triumphs of this group of fictional characters will give these kids the strength they need to get past the current circumstances.

  3. AKMamma says:

    Just in case you did not get it Thea, here is the article on Why adults are reading YA by Jackie Gamber todayhttp://cabingoddess.com/2012/04/discussing-the-ya-phenomena/

  4. I couldn’t get into Harry Potter as well although I definitely like dark. The very first YA novel I read was Twilight. I know it’s not everyone’s favorite, but I read all 4 books – twice – and will read them again in the future. I loved that they were easy to follow but at the same time, not so easy that the reader feels their intelligence is being insulted. I loved the characters and found myself staying awake every night to find out what happens next.

  5. Diane Tibert says:

    I did read the first book in the Harry Potter series, but for reasons I forget, I didn’t read further. I didn’t consider it dark. It was just a good story.

    Here’s a problem with dark youth fiction that some may not realise. It’s filling up the school libraries and English curriculum, and some kids are being swamped by misery. My daughter, grade 8, and a few of her friends dread the books and short stories offered by their English teacher because they are all about death and misery. They’re tired of it. Instead of offering a selection of story themes, teachers are burying the kids in negativity. My daughter, who used to love to read and always had a book in her hand doesn’t often read now because of the narrow selection of themes provided.

    I wonder how many other readers we’re losing because of the lack of variety.

  6. annalisegrey says:

    I love how you mention Harry Potter because that is what did it for me as well. I resisted reading the series for some time because I thought it was “kids’ stuff” and that I was too “adult” to read it. But once I did, I fell in love. Hard core fanatic type love. 😛 It has been all down hill from there. haha But seriously, I love how YA works through some serious issues and takes kids to a place that can be dark and scary but still amazingly beautiful. I think kids and teens need that more often than they need Sweet Valley High type books. Not that there’s anything wrong with SVH – I loved it back in the day – but I never learned anything by reading it. But Harry Potter? Those books are packed with valuable lesson.

    • Amen! exactly how I feel. kids today deal with tons more and they deal very early. I love to keep kids kids as long as possible, but I’m not sure it’s possible these days to keep them kids for long

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