May 27, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

YA Genre-Blending | Focus On


During an after-school rush, one of my favorite teen patrons bounded up to the desk to ask for book recommendations. “I’m looking for a book with action, adventure, time travel, maybe a little bit of magic.” Before I could even start thinking of possible titles, he followed up with “And I’d like it if it’s funny, please.” This teen waited patiently for suggestions, assuming that there would be a huge pile. He represents many current teen readers who are seeking a multiplicity of genres in a single title. This desire for crossed genre and hybrid novels is nothing new—teen readers have long sought out books that have multiple genres and formats, and writers of young adult literature are responding in new and exciting ways. Genre bending and hybrid novels engage a wide cross section of readers. The best give readers a chance to explore new genres as they read within more familiar modes. Good examples are Walter Dean Myers’s Autobiography of My Dead Brother (HarperCollins, 2005), with Christopher Myers’s cartoon and comic artwork throughout, and Libba Bray’s “Gemma Doyle” trilogy (Random), which incorporates elements of detailed historical fiction and fantasy. The fluidity of the text and inclusion of illustrations make genre bending and hybrid titles especially interesting to developing readers looking for a little bit of everything in their books. In addition, the combination of literary elements allows students to gain confidence reading complex texts, a good connection to the Common Core State Standards. The following selections, all published within the last few years, are perfect to share with readers looking for the exact right book, even if they’re not quite sure what that is.

1511_FocusOn-Strip1Chills & Thrills

AVASTHI, Swati. Chasing Shadows. illus. by Craig Phillips. Knopf. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780375863424; pap. $10.99. ISBN 9780375863431.
Gr 9 Up–Twins Holly and Corey and their friend Savitri spend their time practicing freerunning parkour on the streets of Chicago. When Corey is murdered, Holly obsesses over the world Savitri has created in her comics, convinced it can become reality. As Holly loses herself in grief, readers are swept along into both worlds.

DE LA PEÑA, Matt. The Living. Delacorte. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780385741200; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780385741217.
Gr 9 Up–Shy is working on a cruise ship off the California coast when “The Big One” hits and leaves Shy and a passenger struggling on a wrecked ship in the open ocean as a virus sweeps the mainland. De la Peña crafts a survival story/outbreak thriller peppered with incisive social commentary on class and race. Follow up with The Hunted (2015). Audio version available from Brilliance Audio.

PRIEST, Cherie. I Am Princess X. illus. by Kali Ciesemier. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780545620857; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781338032352.
Gr 7-10–Libby and May created Princess X in elementary school, but the stories end when Libby dies in a car accident. Years later, May sees a Princess X sticker and finds their character going viral in an online comic. Is Libby still alive? Readers follow Princess X and May through a twisty, heart-pounding race to the truth.

ROUX, Madeleine. Asylum. HarperCollins. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062220967; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780062220974.
Gr 9 Up–Creepy photographs, handwritten notes, and scary drawings ratchet up the disturbing atmosphere in this horror novel about three teenage friends who discover their dorm was once a mental hospital—and it might not be as deserted as they were led to believe. Sequels include Sanctum (2014) and Catacomb (2015).

WHITE, Kiersten. In the Shadows. illus. by Jim Di Bartolo. Scholastic. 2014. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9780545561440.
Gr 9 Up–Two stories—one told in text and one conveyed through atmospheric drawings—are seemingly unrelated. As readers are pulled in, they’ll be rewarded with a globe-spanning horror story involving witches, secrets, and dark destinies that will have them pondering the nature of story and the elaborate hidden connections that bind the narratives together.

Fact & Fiction

GRIFFIN, Adele. The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone. Soho Teen. 2014. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781616953607.
Gr 9 Up–What happened the night artist Addison Stone fell off the Manhattan Bridge? Combining art, photographs, media coverage, and transcribed interviews, this fictional biography feels immediate and utterly authentic. Griffin’s commitment to creating Addison’s world down to the last detail will leave teens wondering if any of this is real. Audio version available from Blackstone Audio.

SHABAZZ, Ilyasah with Kekla Magoon. X: A Novel. Candlewick. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763669676.
Gr 9 Up–Malcolm Little is headed in the wrong direction fast. He spends his time in clubs involved in criminal schemes. Does he have a future? A first-person narrative blends historical fiction and episodes from the real life of Malcolm Little, the man who became Malcolm X. Back matter fills out the true story of an extraordinary life.

SWENDSON, Shanna. Rebel Mechanics: All Is Fair in Love and Revolution. Farrar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374300098; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781250079947.
Gr 8-11–In a genre-bending mash-up of alternate historical fiction, steampunk, and magical fantasy set in 1888, Verity Newton tries to conceal her growing magical powers while becoming involved with a group of mechanically inclined rebels working to free America from the magic tyranny of the British. Love and adventures ensue. Audio version available from Recorded Books.

TAN, Shaun. The Bird King: An Artist’s Notebook. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. 2013. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780545465137.
Gr 8 Up–Tan gives readers an unforgettable and unique peek into the notebooks and thought processes of a brilliant artist. The author of The Arrival (2007) and Tales from Outer Suburbia (2009) shares sketches, drafts, and marginalia from his work and life alongside text to illuminate the creative process and to encourage readers to create their own worlds.

1511_FocusOn-Strip2More Than Romance

EMOND, Stephen. Winter Town. Little, Brown. 2011. Tr $17.99 ISBN 9780316133326; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780316133319.
Gr 9 Up–Childhood friends Ethan and Lucy reunite each year on winter breaks. This winter Lucy is angry at the world, but Ethan is determined to save their relationship. Ethan’s dreamy comics connect the characters and the story, a romance about friends who find a way to grow closer as they grow up.

HODGE, Rosamund. Cruel Beauty. HarperCollins. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062224736; pap. $9.99 ISBN 9780062224743.
Gr 10 Up–Nyx has always known it is her destiny to marry, and then to murder, Ignifex, the demon tyrant who rules her world. Arriving at his castle, however, Nyx finds herself drawn to Ignifex as she puzzles out the truth of her fate. A lush retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” infused with dark magical fantasy. Audio version available from Blackstone Audio.

THOMAS, Sherry. The Burning Sky. HarperCollins. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062207296; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780062207302.
Gr 8-11–Iolanthe accidentally triggers a prophecy to overthrow an evil ruler, bringing her to the attention of Prince Titus. The two go on the run and slip into hiding in another dimension—the world of 19th-century London. Classic historical romance mixes with high fantasy as Iolanthe and Titus plan a rebellion against tyranny and destiny. The Perilous Sea (2014) and The Immortal Heights (2015) complete the trilogy.

YOON, Nicola. Everything, Everything. illus. by David Yoon. Random. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780553496642.
Gr 9 Up–Maddy lives in a bubble—almost literally—an illness keeps her confined to her house. But when Olly moves in next door, her world opens up with risks, romance, and discovery. Maddy’s story is told in a variety of formats, including e-mails, IM’s, handwritten notes, and doodles. Audio version available from Listening Library.

Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Beyond

BRUCHAC, Joseph. Killer of Enemies. Lee & Low/Tu Bks. 2013. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781620141434.
Gr 8 Up–Apache warrior Lozen is the Killer of Enemies, the chosen one who can slaughter the genetically modified animals and monsters who have overrun the United States after the apocalypse. Lozen fights to free her family and fulfill her destiny in this mix of dystopian action adventure and Apache history and tradition. Followed by Trail of the Dead (2015).

DUYVIS, Corrine. Otherbound. Abrams/Amulet. 2014. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781419709289; pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781419716812.
Gr 9 Up–Nolan has chronic seizures, but when he blacks out, he awakes in a magical world in the mind of Amara, a servant girl. As Nolan learns to control Amara’s movements, the two work together to figure out the mysteries of their predicament. This gripping, realm-crossing adventure mixes fantasy and contemporary fiction and incorporates an appealingly diverse cast.

LEE, Fonda. Zeroboxer. Flux. 2015. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9780738743387.
Gr 7-11–Carr Luka is a breakout star in the zero-gravity boxing arena. His success is bringing glory to his home planet, the once great Earth. But Carr has a secret involving genetic modifications, and he’s mixed up in a dangerous conspiracy. A thrilling combination of page-turning sports action and futuristic sci-fi.

OLDER, Daniel José. Shadowshaper. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545591614.
Gr 8 Up–Sierra Santiago plans to have a relaxing summer. That’s before murals come to life and monsters chase her around Brooklyn. Sierra finds herself in a life-or-death battle to save her neighborhood and the world in this stellar example of the urban fantasy genre.

STRASSER, Todd. The Beast of Cretacea. Candlewick. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780763669010.
Gr 10 Up–Ishmael is a sailor aboard the Pequod, where Captain Ahab relentlessly pursues a giant beast. Except in this remixed version of Moby-Dick, the action takes place in deep space on a distant planet. Lively and fast-paced, this blends a classic adventure romp with futuristic science-fiction exploits.

Who Am I?

QUINTERO, Isabel. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces. Cinco Puntos. 2014. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781935955948; pap. $11.95. ISBN 9781935955955.
Gr 9 Up–Gabi, a Mexican American teenager who feels like she has no place to fit in, tries to sort out her pieces through journaling, writing, and reading poetry. Comprised of poems, journal entries, transcribed phone conversations, lists, and more, the novel follows her quest to define herself on her own terms.

SHARPE, Tess. Far from You. Hyperion. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781423184621; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781484715703.
Gr 9 Up–Sophie is a recovering addict with chronic pain and a dead best friend. Sharpe takes readers into Sophie’s past, weaving a genre-bending tale that is a murder mystery, a tragic romance, and a coming-of-age story as Sophie comes to terms with her sexuality, her disability, and her loss.

SHER, Emil. Young Man with Camera . photos by David Wyman. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545541312.
Gr 7-10–Haunting black-and-white photos are an essential part of this hybrid novel. Main character T— uses photography as an escape from the relentless bullying he undergoes at school. As T— tells his story, which includes the terrible beating of a homeless woman he has befriended, readers experience his dilemma firsthand through powerful words and images.

SMITH, Andrew. Winger. illus. by Sam Bosma. S. & S. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442444928; pap. $11.99. ISBN 9781442444935.
Gr 10 Up–Ryan Dean West is a painfully awkward, completely honest, young 14-year-old junior at boarding school. He plays rugby, tries to figure out girls, evades bullies, and draws autobiographical mini-comics that are sprinkled throughout the text in this hilarious, heartfelt, occasionally profane masterpiece. Followed by the sequel, Stand-Off (2015). Audio version available from Brilliance Audio.

VENKATRAMAN, Padma. A Time to Dance. Penguin. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399257100; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780147514400.
Gr 8-11–Veda excels at the classical Indian dance of bharatanatyam, but her life is changed forever when an accident results in her having one leg amputated below the knee. Told through poetry, this stirring account combines a love story, eloquent verse, and an interesting look at the life and struggles of a dancer.

Angie ManfrediAngie Manfredi is the head of youth services at the Los Alamos County Library System, New Mexico.


Books & Authors. Gale Cengage Learning. (Accessed 9/23/15).
Gr 7 UpFind read-alikes by genre or specific title as well as plot summaries and author information at this extensive database. Free accounts allow users to create and manage their own lists.

Storybird. Storybird. (Accessed 9/23/15).
Gr 7 Up–Storybird provides art prompts to spark writers’ creativity along with a venue for sharing stories and poems. Students can retell stories and blend genres while interacting with other writers and artists.


YALSA’s Teen Book Finder. ALA. 2015. Version 1.4. iOS, requires 6.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Android, Version 1.3, requires 2.3 and up. Free.
(Accessed 9/23/2015).
Gr 8 Up–Teens and librarians can search YALSA’s award winners and book lists by genre, author, or title. The free app incorporates a favorites function and allows for social media sharing. “Hot Picks” change daily.

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