Every month at STACKED, we’re highlighting a genre or subgenre within YA literature, talking about the key elements and some of the recent offerings fitting within it. This started as part of Angela’s reader’s advisory challenge, and so far we’ve covered steampunk, horror, science fiction, high fantasy, mysteries and thrillers, verse novels, contemporary realistic, historical fiction, graphic novels, romance, and dystopia. This month, we’re tackling the last and final genre, humor.
Because we have loved writing this series so much, we want to keep it going through next year, as well. We’ve got some ideas for genres we’d like to tackle, but included at the end of this guide, there is a very short survey asking you if there’s a genre you’d like to know about so we can add it to our list of possibilities.
Humor, like horror, isn’t so much a genre as it is a mood or tone of a book. Every genre can feature humor within it — there are humorous science fiction novels, fantasy novels, horror novels, and so on. Also like horror, humor can be really dark or it can be really light. There are dark satires and there are lighter comedic romances. There’s also plenty of room for humor in YA non-fiction, particularly when it comes to teen memoirs.
Humor a characteristic, and it’s the sort of characteristic that is entirely subjective to the reader. What one person finds as humorous another person might not understand as funny. There are many books that have funny elements, even when they tackle a difficult subject matter. Some readers may appreciate and see it as humorous while others may see the difficult topic tackled as setting the tone of the book instead. An entire book doesn’t need to be knee-slapping funny to be considered humorous: it just needs to have moments of funny within it to fit as humorous.
Jennifer Brannon notes in her guide to humor at Novelist, humor is both subjective and situational. It depends on the reader’s mood as much as the reader’s sense of humor, as well as the situation and subjective views of the characters in the story being read. But on the most basic level, humor just makes someone laugh.
There are surprisingly few resources available on the topic of humor in YA fiction, and part of the reason is because it’s such a subjective aspect of a novel. That doesn’t mean that appreciation for humor doesn’t exist at all; readers and reviews often point out when a book is funny, and there are authors who can be pretty easily pointed to as those who frequently pen humorous stories. A few resources worth knowing about or keeping an eye on though:
- Humor Writers of America: though their website is bare bones, this new organization is meant to be a gathering spot for those who do write humor. One of the founders, Adam Selzer, may be familiar. He’s written a few YA books, including the humorous I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It. The site has a small directory of current members, which might be helpful in scoping out some new names in humor writing.
- As of this writing, there isn’t a specific category for YA humor, but the Thurber House presents the annual Thurber Prize for American Humor.
- Molly Wetta developed this awesome flow chart to YA-friendly humor, which is well worth having on hand for readers who “want to read something funny,” but might not be able to explain exactly what they’re looking for in a funny book.
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray: When a plane crash strands thirteen teen beauty contestants on a mysterious island, they struggle to survive, to get along with one another, to combat the island’s other diabolical occupants, and to learn their dance numbers in case they are rescued in time for the competition.
Mothership by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal (first in series): In 2074, while attending the Hanover School for Expecting Teen Mothers aboard an earth-orbiting spaceship, sixteen-year-old Elvie finds herself in the middle of an alien race war and makes a startling discovery about her pregnancy.
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride: Sam LaCroix, a Seattle fast-food worker and college dropout, discovers that he is a necromancer, part of a world of harbingers, werewolves, satyrs, and one particular necromancer who sees Sam as a threat to his lucrative business of raising the dead.
Nation by Terry Pratchett: After a devastating tsunami destroys all that they have ever known, Mau, an island boy, and Daphne, an aristocratic English girl, together with a small band of refugees, set about rebuilding their community and all the things that are important in their lives.
Oh. My. Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs: When her mother suddenly decides to marry a near-stranger, Phoebe, whose passion is running, soon finds herself living on a remote Greek island, completing her senior year at an ancient high school where the students and teachers are all descended from gods or goddesses.
Sean Griswold’s Head by Lindsey Leavitt: After discovering that her father has multiple sclerosis, fifteen-year-old Payton begins counseling sessions at school, which lead her to become interested in a boy in her biology class, have a falling out with her best friend, develop an interest in bike riding, and eventually allow her to come to terms with life’s uncertainties.
Notes From the Blender by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin: Two teenagers–a heavy-metal-music-loving boy who is still mourning the death of his mother years earlier, and a beautiful, popular girl whose parents divorced because her father is gay–try to negotiate the complications of family and peer relationships as they get to know each other after learning that their father and mother are marrying each other.
So Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother) by Micol Ostow: Four suburban New Jersey students from the Leo R. Gittleman Jewish Day School form a rock band that becomes inexplicably popular, creating exhiliration, friction, confrontation, and soul-searching among its members.
You Killed Wesley Payne by Sean Beaudoin: When hard-boiled, seventeen-year-old private investigator Dalton Rev transfers to Salt River High to solve the case of a dead student, he has his hands full trying to outwit the police, negotiate the school’s social hierarchy, and get paid.
Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah: Year Eleven at an exclusive prep school in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, would be tough enough, but it is further complicated for Amal when she decides to wear the hijab, the Muslim head scarf, full-time as a badge of her faith–without losing her identity or sense of style.
fml by Shaun David Hutchinson: At a party near the end of senior year, seventeen-year-old Simon Cross imagines his life with and without Cassie, the girl he has yearned for since they were freshman, and begins to discover the unpredictable wonders of life his best friends, Ben and Coop, have urged him to explore.
Sucks to Be Me by Kimberly Pauley (also the sequel): When sixteen-year-old Mina is forced to take a class to help her decide whether or not to become a vampire like her parents, she also faces a choice between her life-long best friend and the boy she has a crush on versus new friends and possible boyfriends in her mandatory “vampire lessons.”
Bubble World by Carol Snow: After sixteen-year-old Fresia learns–and tells her friends–that their perfect life on a luxurious tropical island is not real, she is banished from her virtual world to the “mainland,” where people are ugly, school is hard, and families are dysfunctional.
Two Lies and a Spy by Kat Carlton: Sixteen-year-old Kari juggles saving her spy parents while impressing the guy she has been in love with forever.
There is No Dog by Meg Rosoff: When the beautiful Lucy prays to fall in love, God, an irresponsible youth named Bob, chooses to answer her prayer personally, to the dismay of this assistant, Mr. B who must try to clean up the resulting catastrophes.
Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick: When eighteen-year-old Becky Randle’s mother dies, she is whisked away
from a trailer park to New York City, where fashion designer Tom Kelly
offers to transform her into a glamorous Rebecca, a girl fit for a
prince–but soon she begins to fear that she will lose touch with her
Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger: In an alternate England of 1851, spirited fourteen-year-old Sophronia is
enrolled in a finishing school where, she is suprised to learn, lessons
include not only the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but also
diversion, deceit, and espionage.
Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy: When twelve-year-old Stephanie inherits her weird uncle’s estate, she
must join forces with Skulduggery Pleasant, a skeleton mage, to save the
world from the Faceless Ones. (This one skews middle grade.)
Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford: Awkward freshman Will Carter endures many painful moments during his
first year of high school before realizing that nothing good comes
easily, focus is everything, and the payoff is usually incredible.
Croak by Gina Damico: A delinquent sixteen-year-old girl is sent to live with her uncle for
the summer, only to learn that he is a Grim Reaper who wants to teach
her the family business.