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A Reader of Fictions: Why I Love Dark Contemporaries

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Monday, December 3, 2012

Why I Love Dark Contemporaries

When I was a teen, I scorned most of the teen fiction offerings of the time, preferring a steady diet of Jane Austen and adult chick lit, as well as some romance novels sneaked from my mom's collection. Basically, I judged most of them, because they were almost all either failing to be funny or Nicholas Sparks-level sap fests, about poor, good-hearted girls dying of cancer.

The teen books from my teenage years hit pretty much that one note, at least in my experience. Basically, I assumed that all realistic fiction was like Lurlene McDaniel's stuff, which, admittedly, I never read, but I had the plot described to me and I said Oh HELL to the NO. As such, when I finally came back to young adult novels in college, I found my niche in science fiction and fantasy, scrupulously avoiding the weep-fests.

In the last year, I've finall overcome this fear of dark, depressing contemporaries, sometimes referred to as 'issues' books. The thought of reading a book about abuse, drug use, rape, or cancer used to send me running, and, admittedly, my first instinct when I read synopses like that is still to pass the book by, but now I don't, because I am growing as a person and a reader.

It's a process.

As I'm doing preliminary work drawing up a list of my favorite reads of the year, a huge portion of them are contemporaries, even though I've always professed myself to be more of a fantasy reader. This really made me take a step back and evaluate why I always avoided them. There are two basic reasons:
  1. As mentioned above, they tended to melodrama.
  2. The writing tended not to be stellar, since teens were not a popular audience at the time.
  3. I HATED reading unhappy books, like these and dystopias.
Yup, I have made a complete 360 on most of my reading tastes. The books that used to give me the most joy (chick lit), I now can scarcely stand to read, because I'm like THIS SHIT ISN'T REALISTIC. Here's a PSA, folks: Life sucks. A lot. I like my realistic fiction to reflect real life, warts and all, thus my new love for dystopias and depressing contemporary novels. Book should reflect life and just punch you right in the guts while simultaneously tearing out your heart and stomping on it.

Aside from the changes in my personal tastes, I also just think that these novels really are the most original being written right now, and the most emotionally powerful. They have the least idealized teenagers, and tend to involve really well-developed characters. What makes them most exciting in my opinion, though, is that I never know for sure what will happen in the end. Sometimes there's a happy ending, sometimes everyone dies like in a Shakespearean tragedy, and generally it's somewhere in between. As a reader who tends to know exactly where the book is headed, these novels are so refreshing, and they make me feel so much, because I know that anything could happen. It's like Joss Whedon, really, in that anyone could die at any time.

My Top 10 for 2012:
Catalyst - Laurie Halse Anderson
Drowning Instinct - Ilsa J. Bick
Something Like Normal - Trish Doller
Just One Day - Gayle Forman

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green
Kiss the Morning Star - Elissa Janine Hoole
Never Enough - Denise Jaden
The Opposite of Hallelujah - Anna Jarzab 

A Midsummer's Nightmare - Kody Keplinger
Breaking Beautiful - Jenna Shaw Wolf

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Blogger Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer said...

While I do enjoy an occasional dark book, I must admit I read them fewer and far between now. In my twenties, and before kids I would gobble them up, cry and embrace them. Now, not so much. I am and always have been an emotional reader as is evident in my zany reviews. Dark subject matter wreaks havoc on my soul. I imagine my children or myself or my spouse in the situation, I cry like nobodies business and in fact..when I do get in the mood and read one I have frightened my hubby and son. They have actually skedaddled!

December 3, 2012 at 11:51 AM  
Blogger Zemira said...

I love to read dark, depressing and sad novels. I want to weep and feel like someone ripped my heart away.

I recently read Drowning Instinct and it blew my mind! Actually I was listening to the audiobook which made everything seem more real.

Last week I ordered The Faults In Our Stars. Can't wait to see what all the buzz is about. Oh,how I want to read Just One Day! If only I didn't spent it all on hardbacks last month. *mentally kicks herself*

Zemira @ YA Fanatic

December 3, 2012 at 1:20 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

Ah I know what you mean about those teenage years when every book was some sappy, badly-written, happy ending type story. It was only about nine months ago that I even read a Young Adult Contemporary - and the first few I read nearly pushed me further into the 'nuh UH!' camp.

I like my books dark, no matter what the genre - if I wanted fluff I'd watch Lifetime!

*Continues stalking Just One Day*

December 3, 2012 at 1:46 PM  
Blogger Bibliosaurus Text said...

Man, I love the dark stuff. I just finished Eleanor & Park, which was totally cute but also had a really dark side to it. It's like mixing the salty with the sweet. You should totally read it!

December 3, 2012 at 9:08 PM  
Blogger Renae @ Respiring Thoughts said...

Yep, #1 relatable post of the century right here. I didn't read YA as a "kid" (since I'm not an adult yet) because my experience with teen fiction began and ended with Stephenie Meyer and the kiddy companions to the Left Behind books. The only books my parents owned were classics in pretty Folio Society editions, and I figured I should be just like my dad.

AND THEN I joined the book blogging world and was all "Hmm, this John Green guy is popular, let's try him out" and then "Whoa, they write books about domestic and rape? That's so much more mature than I thought, and totally aligns with my personal interests." From there, I've spent the last twelve months or so transforming myself into an unashamed reader of YA and an even less apologetic realistic fiction junkie.

Like you said, complete 180.

December 3, 2012 at 9:26 PM  
Blogger roro said...

i love something like normal . i should read the others too

December 4, 2012 at 5:42 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Kimba, I definitely get that, and I'm sure that if I had kids, I would have those same worries. It freaks me out way less for me, but if I was imagining other people in those scenarios, yikes. Thankfully, I don't plan to have kids, so I should be able to continue to enjoy these.

December 4, 2012 at 9:24 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

You know, I don't usually weep in books. The exceptions being when animals die or when a series I'm really emotionally connected to has a dramatic conclusion (HP, Mockingjay).

YES. So much love for that book.

TFIOS is amazing! I'm giving away a copy of Just One Day. ;)

December 4, 2012 at 9:26 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Gah, they were SO BAD. Uh oh! What did you read?

Me too! My young self was unhappy and wanted fluff, but now bring on the death and the depression!

December 4, 2012 at 9:28 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Oh yes! I am so glad to hear that because I have a review copy of it!

December 4, 2012 at 9:28 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Oh man, I read a couple of the kid's Left Behind books. WHY DID I DO THAT? Haha, Stephenie Meyer didn't come out until I was in college. O_O

JOHN GREEN. I love him so much. Just wonderful. It makes me sad that I missed out on so much of it because I was prejudiced against it for so long!

December 4, 2012 at 9:29 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

You should!

December 4, 2012 at 9:30 AM  
Blogger Steph Sinclair said...

I avoid contemporaries for the same reasons, but I seem to give them the most 5 star ratings out of any other genre. I'm starting to really like books that make me cry. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?! LOL.

December 4, 2012 at 12:30 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Same with me. I was like maybe I should stop? Since I love them... Maybe. This post is making it official.

December 4, 2012 at 2:00 PM  
Blogger Jenni said...

YES! I love me a good "issue" book. I really thought, when I started my blog, that I was a huge fan of paranormal and dystopian (Thanks to Stephanie and Suzanne) but I have found that I love me a good contemporary. I think because I can connect with them way more and they just feel so... real. I find it's easier to get lost in realistic fiction which, you're right is often heartbreaking because life sucks!

December 4, 2012 at 6:35 PM  
Blogger Kara_Malinczak said...

I know what you mean. I have a problem though. I REALLY don't like most "issue" books. I did make a promise to myself to start trying to read more contemporary fiction this year and I do want to attempt some of the darker ones, but it's hard because the blurbs on a lot of them don't interest me.

Just One Day though? I am definitely reading THAT one. And I will read Easy and Pushing the Limits at some point.

Great post, Christina.

December 4, 2012 at 7:46 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

First off: this post ROCKS. Secondly I am employing your method of opening two windows: one with the post, one with the comment box. Thank you for this helpful tip, oh great one ;)


"The thought of reading a book about abuse, drug use, rape, or cancer used to send me running, and, admittedly, my first instinct when I read synopses like that is still to pass the book by, but now I don't, because I am growing as a person and a reader."

THIS statement is totally ME. Thank you for putting it out there because I wholeheartedly agree:)

I LOVE that what you say about contemp. realistic works having the most fleshed out and authentic characters. I could not agree more. Ditto on your thoughts about real life not always ending in a HEA. YES.

Next: a confession. Of your Top Ten Dark Contemporaries I have only read THREE of them. And those three TOTALLY rocked (especially Just One Day. WOW.) so it looks like, based on the fact that you and I are of like mind when it comes to contemps, I have some reading to do! THANK YOU for this list and your thoughts:)

December 4, 2012 at 8:34 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

*fistbumps* This is the world where we agree! Authors who are mean to us and put us through the wringer, the A.S. Kings and Laurie Halse Andersons. :)

December 5, 2012 at 8:32 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Part of the secret is not paying too much attention to blurbs. Honestly, I still read them and I'm like UGH EATING DISORDERS, but then if I read the book I'm all OMG FEELS.

Just One Day is dark, but it's not about a specific issue, so a nice transition book I think. I don't know if you'll like PTL, which was on my initial list, but I kicked it off for some darker titles.

December 5, 2012 at 8:33 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Thank you! That's how I comment on blogs all of the time, or all of my comments would be in the neighborhood of "What a great post. I had so many things to say about it, but all I remember is that you're funny!"

Hahah, glad I'm not alone. I'm trying to retrain my brain, but it takes time!

There are other ones with great characters, but I think these do best across the board.

Oh man, I think you will like most of these!

Thank you for stopping by!

December 5, 2012 at 8:35 AM  
Blogger Nori said...

I love this post! I feel like I need to be in a dark mood to read a dark book. I of course love your list of contemporaries! And while I tend to usually go for the more upbeat/supernatural crowd of YA, it's these books that really make an impression. I'm like still thinking about The Fault in Our Stars all the time. And while I do think really good YA, in any variety, can have excellent characters, there is something about these characters. And there definitely is something about not knowing how it will end. Sometimes, it is so refreshing to actually be surprised. Refreshing and scary, too.

December 5, 2012 at 10:29 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Ha, I used to think I never wanted one ever, but now I want ALL of them. Anything that can make my black heart feel is fabulous. I think because in realistic fiction, there's not really any world building to do, they can devote more pages to the relationships between the characters and getting the people just right.

December 5, 2012 at 10:39 AM  
Blogger Lynn K. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

December 11, 2012 at 6:01 AM  
Blogger Lynn K. said...

I don't read too many dark contemporaries because they are just too real/depressing sometimes. Some days are depressing enough without having add to it so I mostly gravitate towards fantasy books.

Will keep this list in mind so I'll know which to choose when I'm in the mood for it cause Something Like Normal is the only one I've read. But I do have a boxed John Green set so I'm hoping to start those soon...

On the other hand, ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes is a book I'd recommend. From the cover it looks like a fluffy chic-lit but it's actually not. Very heart-wrenching and made me cry buckets of tears at 2am.

December 11, 2012 at 6:06 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

That's how I always used to feel and fantasy was my genre of choice!

Perhaps this is because of where I am in my life right now? I don't really know.

I'll check that one out!

December 17, 2012 at 11:50 AM  
Blogger Katie said...

YOU'VE READ THE NEW GAYLE FORMAN BOOK ALREADY, I'M SO JEALOUS!!! I'm dying for that book. Like, you don't even know.

I'm not usually into serious contemps. (Bring on the fluffy and funny!) But I like a few, and I'll agree with you that they are the most original right now. There's a lot of room for creativity with them, and I think they're selling really well, too. I do sometimes with that chick-lit (as opposed to romance) would make a surge again, though. But I'd rather see some funny books about girls that don't involve a lot of romance; maybe romance is in it, but it's mostly about the MC's life free from boys, you know? I would kill to find a YA version of CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC. Or OMG. Random, but do you know what else I'd love to see? More YA historical romance. That's funny. Can there be a YA Lauren Willig? I WOULD DIE of happiness.

December 22, 2012 at 8:44 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Hahahaha, I don't know if you'll like the new Gayle Forman book. O_O Who knows. I cannot even begin to predict what you'll like or won't.

The thing that drives me crazy about chick lit, which, admittedly, I used to love, is that there are these quirky, nerdy heroines like myself, and they always get these sexy guys chasing after them. Times this has happened in my life: zero. My friends haven't been seeing much of that either. At some point, I just got too jaded for it. The stories promised me romance and a happy ending that I just don't necessarily feel is coming in real life.

Ooh, I would be all over a humor novel about a girl that DIDN'T focus on romantic travails. Write it.

I love historical romance. *swoons* I need to read Lauren Willig.

December 27, 2012 at 10:51 AM  
Blogger A Belle’s Tales said...

Wow! I'm so excited I stumbled across this post! I have always run away from contemporaries. The few I have read, I enjoyed; so I'm not sure why I overlook this genre. Last week, something changed. I was in the mood for dark and sad. I just finished two contemps and really enjoyed them, but I didn't know where to turn next for more. Thanks to your post, now I do. Plus, anyone who works Joss Whedon into a post is A+ in my book. Adding all the above mentioned novels to my TBR. Thanks so much!
New follower :)

January 5, 2013 at 4:15 PM  

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