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Reviewed by:
  • Beyond the Blockbusters: Themes and Trends in Contemporary Young Adult Fiction ed. by Rebekah Fitzsimmons and Casey Alane Wilson
  • Robert Prickett (bio)
Rebekah Fitzsimmons and Casey Alane Wilson, editors. Beyond the Blockbusters: Themes and Trends in Contemporary Young Adult Fiction. UP of Mississippi, 2020.

Harry Potter. Twilight. The Fault in Our Stars. The Hunger Games. These "blockbuster" books and films have dramatically changed the landscape of young adult literature in recent years. Despite the ever-expanding young adult literature publishing world, the editors of this collection argue that there continues to be a detrimental focus on these blockbuster texts adapted to films within scholarship, the classroom, and library environments. The editors argue, "limiting scholarship to this hypercanon means many valuable and important perspectives and approaches are left out" (ix) and posit "three major takeaways" of their collection: (1) that YA is diverse, not a singular genre; (2) that there are YA texts overlooked due to the phenomenon of the blockbuster; and (3) that "scholars, teachers, librarians, and patrons of YA literature … have influence over which texts become blockbusters" (xxi–xxii).

The essays within this collection provide a hint at the thematic emphasis that the editors outline in the introduction, "Boom! Goes the Hypercanon: On the Importance of the Overlooked and Understudied in Young Adult Literature." Split into three sections, the collection moves from "conventions of existing subgenres" ("Defining Boundaries") (xvi), to "collisions of subject, theme, and characters in ways that challenge the limits of long-established genres" ("Expanding Boundaries") (xviii), to "critique existing categories" (Revealing Boundaries") (xix). This collection of fourteen essays covers a good deal of ground, ranging from focused topics on mermaids to police-violence to fairy tales to ballet novels.

Some of the essays effectively illustrate the overarching argument of the collection and do, themselves, expand the scholarship and focus to lesser-known, lesser-studied works. Taken as a sub-set, essays such as Amber Gray's "Fathoms Below: An In-Depth Examination of the Mermaid in Young Adult Literature, 2010–2015"; Leah Phillips' "Mythopoetic YA: Worlds of Possibility"; Sara K. Day's "Reimagining Forever …: The Marriage Plot in Recent Young Adult Literature"; and Sarah E. Whitney's "Sharpening the Pointe: The Intersectional Feminism of Contemporary Young Adult Ballet Novels" provide a thematic/trend approach to the analysis over the subgenre's multiple texts. These essays are a diverse set of readings outside of the "blockbusters" of YA, providing the intended expansion of research and texts that the editors argued for effectively.

However, there are clear moments where the very thing that the editors seem to be arguing against points out the struggle inherent within their argument and within YA itself. There is recognized power in the "blockbuster," and the draw of the "blockbuster" makes it irresistible to include. For instance, the essay that starts the collection, "Exploring the Genre Conventions of the YA [End Page 219] Dystopian Trilogy as Twenty-First-Century Utopian Dreaming" by Rebekah Fitzsimmons, one of the editors, is focused on the dystopian trilogy that has had many blockbuster moments, such as the Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, The Giver, and so on. While the author points out the desire to "move beyond the best-known trilogies" (3), her examples repeatedly include the Hunger Games and interestingly, The Chaos Walking trilogy (soon to be a major motion picture starring the current Spider-Man star, Tom Holland, and Star Wars star, Daisy Ridley). Another essay centered on police violence in YA, "Who Are These Books Really For? Police-Violence YA, Black Youth Activism, and the Implied White Audience" by Kaylee Jangula Mootz—an incredibly timely addition to the scholarship of YA at this particular moment in time—begins with an acknowledgment of the "blockbuster" status of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and continues to include an analysis of other "blockbuster" YA books, such as All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely and Tony Medina's "blockbuster" graphic novel, I Am Alonso Jones. The blockbuster, after all, is known to many; the appeal and functional value of referencing the known and well-liked to the reader is too compelling even in a collection seeking to turn the spotlight...


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pp. 219-220
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