With so many excellent examples of teen literature on the market today, the young adult publishing world has blossomed, attracting many adults who find within YA books an intellectual and emotional satisfaction sorely lacking in much of adult fiction. Is there an adult series as beloved and discussed as The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Percy Jackson? Is there an adult book that can reduce you to the same satisfied, sobbing mess as John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars? Since when have we had characters as alive and iconic as Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter, Weetzie Bat, Huckleberry Finn, and Octavian Nothing in adult fiction? My point is, now more than ever the caliber and craftsmanship of YA fiction has reached a seeming Golden Age, with authors such as M. T. Anderson, Laurie Halse Anderson, Maureen Johnson, Ransom Riggs, and David Levithan writing with a mastery little seen in the sphere of adult publishing. There are plenty of fantastic examples of how teens might talk, act in usual and unusual circumstances, and interact with adults and their environment in the realm of a story. Which is why there is absolutely no excuse for the DCnU’s aggressively mediocre teen-oriented comic books.
About a year ago, DC Comics (which was struggling with stagnant storylines and characters overly burdened by continuity) made the bold decision to start from scratch and re-introduce all of their characters as if it was the first time. Scott Lobdell and Brett Booth’s Teen Titans series has been the YA flagship of this new era in DC Comics. So how do you make it appealing to its target audience? The editors at DC Comics seem to have asked themselves, “What do teens like today?” The answer is, of course, The Hunger Games.
Some of you already know that I am a (sometimes not so) clandestine comic book geek. It started when I was little and read the Wolverine comics my dad brought home. Then I read Generation X and some other books for teen readers, and loved them. I’ve collected modestly on and off for a while now, since, regrettably, there are few comic book sellers in Appalachia, and that’s not because of a lack of fans!
As a YA librarian, I made a point recently to sample the teen stuff out on the market today. One of my favorites geared towards this audience is DC’s rebooted Teen Titans series. Teen Titans has always been a struggle for the publisher, mostly due to sub-par writing. Scott Lobdell has the reins of the series now, and the first two issues have been a wildly entertaining ride. Some of the complaints I’ve seen online are included in IGN’s low-scoring review of the latest issue: The series is filled with cliches that don’t let the characters grow as they should, and the series is also riddled with plot holes. Here’s why neither of those complaints are really a problem for the publisher.
I try to read as many of the YA books I order as possible, so I can knowledgeably answer questions from teens and parents. Most of the really popular series (House of Night, Angel Burn, The A-List, etc.) are fueled by teen angst, romantic tension and admittedly saccharine cliches that nevertheless strike a chord with teens. When we become adults we often want something a bit more cerebral and less emotional, but hormone-driven adolescents are generally much more pleased with an honest expression of powerful emotion and an affecting storyline (which is one of the things YA writers cite as the greatest pleasure of crafting teen fiction). I think that emotional honesty is appealing and refreshing, but it can occasionally become tiresome or cliche.
Teen worried about his/her wacked-out sister/friend dealing with dark issues? Romantic tension building within hours of two teen strangers meeting? An idealistic and an embittered teen meet and are at first disgusted with each other before slowly becoming friends/lovers? A global conspiracy only teens know about? A brooding young man with a dark secret? Yes, these storylines and character types have been used over and over again, but that’s because they work and sell spectacularly. Teens might read the exact same tale over and over again, but at least they’re reading, and that’s an open gateway to more original and riskier works.
As far as plot holes are concerned, there’s many a teen book that I’m shocked I can’t see through due to the sheer amount of narrative fallacies. Why do cops, teachers and staff so willingly give out information to a 17-year-old boy? Where are the adults in this story and why aren’t they interfering with very clear dangers to their children? Why do only kids know about this global conspiracy, anyway? Where did that Harley Davidson come from? When you’re having a lot of fun reading an entertaining story, the plot holes don’t matter as much, and they can be easily ignored.
I don’t mean to say that Teen Titans is high-quality stuff. Better quality titles such as The Runaways, Avengers Academy, Young Avengers, and Action Comics are out there, and they represent the John Greens, Lauren Myracles, and Maureen Johnsons to Teen Titans' Stephenie Meyer. But Lobdell knows his audience well and is very savvy about using everything that appeals to teens about popular YA fiction. I can definitely see reluctant readers picking up this book, loving it, and moving on to higher quality titles and even, dare I say it, actual books! It's a fun story, hits all the right chords, and has just enough danger and romance to keep you coming back for more. Recommended!