“Pick a genre,” they said. “Horror. Fantasy. Science Fiction. Romance. Crime. Thriller. What interests you most?”
I was fifteen, and I could no longer hang out in the children’s section of the bookstore—the price of being tall. This was back in the days before Young Adult fiction became the juggernaut of the publishing industry that it is now, and most of the protagonists in the children’s section were around 12 or 13 years old. It was time to graduate to “Adult” fiction… but I couldn’t choose a genre to explore first. I wanted everything. And I wanted it all in one book.
This was where my love for genre-bending books began. While many stories incorporate elements of different genres—for example, a strong thread of romance running through a YA novel—there are fewer that can confidently straddle the lines of two or more genres at the same time. Those that do so successfully tend to rank among my favorite books and series. Blending genres enables the author to take what might be a common trope or familiar plot and provide a new, fresh take. Here are five of my favorite genre-bending YA novels…
The Dark Days Club (A Lady Helen Novel) by Alison Goodman
Genres: Paranormal and Historical. Goodman’s research into the Regency era is absolutely exquisite in its detail. You can see, touch, and taste the world—it’s a fully transformative experience. There is no other book I’ve read where I’ve felt so completely swept into the past. The prim and proper Regency era setting of Goodman’s Lady Helen novels provides a contrast to the vicious paranormal elements of the ghastly, soul-sucking Deceivers, and only the Reclaimers—including the titular Lady Helen—stand in the way of their total domination. The blend between the details of the Regency era and the brashness of the paranormal creates a wonderfully otherworldly reading experience. I’m currently reading the final book in the trilogy and I never want it to end…
Stalking Jack the Ripper Series by Kerri Maniscalco
Genres: Historical and Murder Mystery. The three books in this series are some of my favorite books from the last few years (and there’s a fourth book on the way). They’re packed full of fascinating historical details and settings that are paired with an enthralling whodunnit. The first book explores the events of the Jack the Ripper case and places our heroine, Audrey Rose Wadsworth, into the action as she seeks to uncover the identity of the infamous murderer. By building the first book around the hunt for an elusive real-life killer, as opposed to a fictional villain, the author raises the stakes and draws the reader into the mystery quickly and irrevocably. Part of Stalking Jack the Ripper’s appeal (and the eventual satisfaction to be found in its conclusion) is that Maniscalco provides a fictional resolution to one of history’s most infamous unsolved criminal cases.
The Selection by Kiera Cass
Genres: Dystopian and Romance. If you took The Bachelor and set it within the world of The Hunger Games, then you’d have The Selection. While the majority of the book is spent establishing the dynamics between the various girls fighting to win Prince Maxon’s affection and on the development of the central relationship, the backdrop to the story and this world is not all hearts and flowers. The contrast between the two genres is used to good effect here: the swoony nature of romance, on one hand, and the constant dangers of a deteriorating dystopian world on the other. Blending the two together makes the sweet moments all that sweeter.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Genres: Paranormal and Fantasy. One might argue that paranormal is fantasy, but they are two very different genres in many ways, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone helps highlight some of the distinctions between the two while skillfully weaving them together. It’s difficult to discuss much about the structure of Taylor’s novel without spoiling the plot, but the divide between these two subgenres of speculative fiction are clearly defined within the book. The story begins in the present day with the protagonist Karou, and while there are paranormal elements—like when she encounters the angel Akiva—the plot soon transforms into something much more akin to a straightforward fantasy novel. Reading the book is like exploring a sliding scale of fantasy… similar to dipping your toes into the water and wading in bit by bit before plunging in completely. Taylor’s imagination really takes flight later in the book, and her subsequent novels in the trilogy are much more clearly on the fantasy side of the equation.
Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier
Genres: Historical, Crime, and Paranormal. Set in 1932 in Sydney, Australia where a bloody, ruthless mob war rages in a fictionalized version of the Surry Hills neighborhood, known as Razorhurst. The book alternates between two very different characters, Kelpie and Dymphna, who are connected by their ability to see the dead. With the back alleys and narrow laneways of Razorhurst often running red, this ability is a curse rather than a gift. Razorhurst is sharp and cutthroat, living up to its name—the result bloody and often painful. It’s a bold Young Adult novel that doesn’t shy away from depicting the gruesome and dirty criminal underbelly of the era. The blend of historical and criminal elements go hand-in-hand in this retelling of the grim violence that once gripped a real suburb in Sydney. And the paranormal elements add a layer of intrigue, as those who are killed in the turf war are not so easily forgotten…
What are your favorite genre-bending YA novels?
Raised on a diet of Spielberg, Lucas, and Disney, Astrid knew she wanted to be surrounded by all things fantastical from a young age. She’s spent the last ten years working in film, animation and television as both an artist and manager. Career highlights include working on James Cameron’s Avatar, Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin and Happy Feet 2 by George Miller. She’s a visual writer and aims to capture the vivid stories that play like movies in her head. Her debut novel—the genre-bending YA fantasy/murder mystery, Four Dead Queens—is available now from Putnam/Penguin Random House.