Hooked on realism (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

The YA books I loved best as a teen definitely inspired the YA books I’ve written. They all fall under the umbrella of “contemporary realism.”

It was perhaps my misfortune to be writing contemporary realism during the era when popular YA fiction has been filled with vampires, faeries, witches, wizards, and superheroes, but that’s life. At least John Green, Laurie Halse Anderson, Courtney Summers, and Leila Sales, among others, have helped keep the subgenre alive.

I always wanted to read about realistic problems with realistic solutions. As a teen, I couldn’t stand it if characters were able to get out of sticky situations by flying or casting spells or using any other magical power I would never be able to wield in real life. I wasn’t nearly as interested in mythical dragons as in the real battles that people fight every day with life’s unexpected pitfalls--illness, loss, rejection, betrayal—presented not in the form of fantasies and allegories but with the hard edges and strict limits of realism. What do you do when the kids around you start taking drugs? When the guy you like turns out to be a jerk? When you’re bullied? When your friendships change? When your parents divorce? When serious illness hits your family? Even the problems that weren’t immediately relevant to me were problems that my friends faced, or that my neighbors faced, or that I could face one day. These stories reflected the world I saw around me; they reassured me that I wasn’t alone in finding the world a daunting and confusing and troubling place—and sometimes an absurd, ridiculous, laughable one, humor also being part of many realistic stories.

And so I read Judy Blume, Ellen Conford, Paula Danziger, Sandra Scoppettone, Paul Zindel, S. E. Hinton, Norma Klein, K. M. Peyton. Even though I also read Lois Duncan, whose stories often had a paranormal twist, I liked that she grounded her stories in realistic worlds. Her characters had ordinary problems, into which their more extraordinary problems were woven.

I know now that many of my contemporaries found necessary escape, or comfort, or power, in fantasy stories. That’s why we need so many different stories, because different readers need different things. What I needed, and what I wrote about, and what I still like best to read, are the “ordinary” stories, of this “ordinary” world that can be so challenging just as it is.


  1. It's good to know that I'm not the only who prefers "ordinary" stories. I like some of those supernatural stories, but it's easier to relate to the "ordinary" ones. Judy Blume was one of my favorites because she really honed in on the things that teenagers and preteens thought about, everything from training bras, first kisses, and what it was like when their parents got divorced. I like how she portrayed these things exactly as how a teenager or preteen would think about them, not as how an adult would.


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