Fear is a powerful emotion, and it’s driving current trends in YA publishing. Political activism—how-to guides and novels about the most potent social issues of the day—are prominent this year, including a forthcoming novel from bestselling author Ellen Hopkins, People Kill People (S&S, Sept.), who says her fans want to be part of the dialogue about change. “If I can in some small or large fashion encourage their passion, I will have accomplished an important goal,” Hopkins says. “Hopefully one where people don’t live in daily fear of what’s around the corner or stalking their schools, churches, concerts, or Waffle Houses.”
Immigrants and first-generation Americans are also confronting fear head-on with memoirs and novels that tackle highly charged political topics such as assimilation, Islamophobia, and what it’s like to live in the U.S. illegally with the day-to-day worry that you—or your parents—might be detained and deported. Holt is releasing a YA edition of actress Diane Guerrero’s 2016 memoir for adults (retitled My Family Divided, July), which details her Colombian parents’ deportation when she was age 14, because it has already found its way into the hands of tweens and teens. “There are so many kids from immigrant communities who are experiencing this fear,” she says. “The fear has always been there, but it’s never been as strong as it is now.”
And for those seeking a way to practice dealing with fear, teen thrillers are in high demand. Agent Rosemary Stimola, who sold Karen M. McManus’s sinister One of Us Is Lying into 38 countries, says it makes sense that in a world full of scary things, YA writers would dive in headfirst: “Facing fears and crossing physical, social, cultural, racial, and psychological boundaries, YA novels have come of age—not just reflecting the world, but looking to change it.”
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We spoke with a number of agents and editors about the resurgence in teen thrillers and the factors contributing to this development, from both inside and outside of the publishing world.