• Diversity and Adventure in Young Adult Novels: Beyond the Pale

    by  • October 16, 2012 • From the Editor

    Cover for the young adult trilogy, a parkour image with clouds

    Cover of Cobalt City Rookies, Original photo by Shahed Salehian, modified by Timid Pirate

    Behind the curtain, we’ve been putting together a trilogy of young adult novels. These three novels take place in the Cobalt City superhero universe. To prepare for this, last year I started devouring young adult books in an editorial attempt to figure out what kind of books we wanted to publish. I read at least four hundred young adult books, and here’s what made me cringe: I barely remember them. Most of them are weak stories, with lots of cliches, and white, rich teens who manage to do truly unbelievable things. There are exceptions, and I read those too. But most of the time, the story didn’t grab my attention. Most of the young adult stories I read just didn’t have good storytelling.

    Not only that–but they were dark. And I don’t mean in a battling-with-real-issues kind of way. They were dark in a downward spiral of terror and horror that sucked you into a maelstrom of angst; and yet, they still didn’t resonate and weren’t very interesting as coherent stories. It was like the authors thought “angst” should permeate the whole book to make it a YA–and action, adventure or plot be darned.

    Now, I’m being very general here. There are some really amazing young adult books out there, too. But my general impression was of a miasma of boring. Simply having a teenage character wasn’t enough to redeem these books for me. And the preponderance of white, straight, “normal,” primarily extroverted characters amazed me. Now. I’m not the first to notice this–the inestimable Cora Buhlert has a lovely 2011 post on it, for instance. Sarwat Chadda has another good 2011 piece, as does Kate Hart.

    So, this impression of what I didn’t like about (the bulk of) the genre helped us to come up with a list of what we actually wanted. Timid Pirate wanted to put something out there that empowered teens, reflected the diverse nature of teens, and had really, really good stories. That meant actual conflict, and adversity, and change: tension and good characters.

    Seems like a simple list, doesn’t it? When we started to get pitches, we were blown away. These three authors–Rosemary Jones, Jeremy Zimmerman and Nicole Burns–have transformed my relationship to young adult fiction. They proposed amazingly complex plots, with rich and diverse characters, set in a superhero universe of vivid, spectacular tension and growth:

    • There’s Jamie Hattori, or Kensei, a half-Japanese, half-African-American who gets asked out by a girl in chapter two, and endures cyber and in-person bullying without revealing her superhero side.
    • There’s Tatterdemalion, a shy introvert being raised by her uncle, who comes into her own in the wilds of Alaska and then faces her own social fears alongside organized gang activity in her new school.
    • And there’s the Wrecker of Engines, an immigrant from Hong Kong who has come to research his family’s history in Cobalt City, who discovers that a local librarian has unwittingly unleashed a steampunk villain upon the city.

    Seriously–these are stories of adventure, daring and captivating characters. These are characters you’ll want to talk back to. There are strong families, break-ups, romances, extended families, friends, villains and the struggle to be yourself as a teenager. They’re stories I have read again and again, and found new things to love each time.

    So if you’re looking for diverse, epic stories that just happen to have teens as the main protagonists, have we ever got a trilogy for you.

    Get the e-book of Cobalt City Rookies, including all three novels, for Kindle, for Nook or both plus DRM-free.


    Cobalt City Rookies, the superhero young adult trilogy, was released October 31st, 2012. Comments, suggestions or YA to recommend? We love feedback, either in the comments below or by email.

    Tags: cobalt city, Cobalt City Rookies, diversity, e-book, jeremy zimmerman, nicole burns, novels, rosemary jones, , superheroes, trilogy, young adult, young adult trilogy


    I got my first red pen at the age of nine, editing for a neighbor's grant publications. Little did she know she'd created a professional nitpicker, someone who would later mark up paperbacks and mail them to the publisher with tsk-tsk notes. Making stories better makes me happy.