Trending Thursday: High Concept YA Contemporaries

Welcome to this week's Trending Thursday, a weekly feature in which I pick a YA trend and we discuss. Today, I wanted to talk about something I've been noticing more and more lately:
The High Concept YA Contemporary.

What's "high concept?" Well, like a lot of things, that's debatable. This former literary agent defined it as a book that has a plot that can be described in a succinct and appealing fashion.

Still not sure what that means? You can probably guess the YA books that go with these succinct and appealing concepts right away:
  • What if, in the future, love were considered a disease?
  • What if there were a boarding school that trained teenage girls to be spies?
  • What if a boy wizard had to battle the dark lord who murdered his parents?

In YA, I see a lot of high concept books that are paranornal/fantasy/dystopian/thriller. But I'd say that realistic YA can also be high concept.  You probably recognize these realistic YA books that I'd call high concept:
  • Two kids in a cancer support group meet and fall in love.
  • Before a girl commits suicide, she makes recordings for thirteen people, telling them why they're at fault.
  • A girl, clinging to life after the car accident that killed her family, must decide whether to live or die.
I read a lot of realistic YA, and I feel like I'm suddenly seeing more high concept-y books. Not sure why that is, but I have three theories (all of which could be wrong!)

1) the enormous popularity of TFiOS, which I'd call a high concept book.
2) the fact that many YA books are being made into movies, which favor high concept plots, so perhaps that's another reason that publishers are actively looking for script-friendly (and perhaps high-concept) YA.
3) as some readers are moving away from paranormal/dystopian books, they want realistic stories that have higher stakes -- life and death stuff. 

Just recently, I read three realistic YA books that I'd call high concept.
  • A girl who lets strangers on a website make important life decisions for her.
  • A girl who decides to get her cheating boyfriend back by using ancient warfare strategies.
  • A boy whose head is cryogenically frozen and then reattached to a new body.
I have absolutely nothing against these kinds of stories.  I enjoy reading them. But sometimes when I read books like these, I feel that the concept overshadows the story -- that I'm reading a story that's more concept driven than I'd like. (I had a discussion a while back in comments on a post about my idea that some books are concept-driven, and the problems I have with those books.)

So, it could just be me, but I feel a little worried.  Is this a trend? Maybe, maybe not. I hope that NON high concept realistic YA fiction doesn't get crowded off the shelves.  I still want to read realistic YA that's complicated. Character-driven. Subtle. Experimental. Hard to market.

Tell me what you think in comments. Because, you know, everyone may totally disagree with me on this one...

Want to read some other recent Trending Thursday posts? Just click here.


  1. I'm currently writing a YA novel and it isn't easy with all the books that are already out there to write something good that is still original. Maybe that's also the reason why there are so many new high concept books at this moment? Because it's safe (higher chance to be published and easier to explain to possible agent what the story is about) and people seem to like it? Great discussion, I love thinking about those kind of topics.

    1. That's an excellent point. High concept books are much easier to market, to sell, to pitch. Also, just because you can describe a book succinctly doesn't mean it can't be a complex story (like TFiOS). That said, I can think of books that I love that can't really be described in a sentence....

  2. I think the fact that High concept books are so popular just goes to show what the public wants. I'm a huge fan of TFiOS but I haven't read any of Green's other books.

    P.S., in which book does a girl let people on the internet make decisions for her? Haven't heard of that one before.

    1. Maybe. I think that Lavender is right: high concept books are easier to market. But I wouldn't say they are necessarily better.

      I think TFioS is typical of Green's style, but I'd say his other books are pretty hard to explain in a succinct way...

  3. Well, I like all but High concept is easier for me to read. When it gets too "real" it makes me sad..hehe! I read to escape reality not live it. I have to do that every day. BUT, It is nice to sit down with something that is more "believable" sometimes.

  4. I agree, I hope traditional realistic contemporary fiction doesn't get crowded off the shelf by more gimmicky books. Some authors can do the high concept and still wow me with their brilliant take on realistic teens, so it's definitely not a kiss of death, but you're right it's very trendy right now which means a lot of writers are trying it and you're going to have some less successful attempts. Great post!

    1. LOL -- that is a high concept comment because it succinctly sums up my feelings in a couple of sentences....

  5. I tend to love high concept books, but I also NEED my characters to be amazing. I think you made a ton of great points, and I'm sure TFIOS is part of the equation. I think your comment about characters and actions being forced is exactly the problem that I had with Being Sloane Jacobs, but I think we talked about that already. :)

  6. You really pushed me to think a lot about this subject, Jen. As for me, I like high-concept YAs especially if it's a genre that isn't contemporary. We all need something interesting and intriguing if we want a dystopic/paranormal/fantasy that sells - given with all the books out now, there is a need for something new. As for Contemporary, I don't mind if it isn't high concept, because I believe they're meant to be character-driven in the first place!

    Faye at The Social Potato Reviews

  7. I love these concepts. I have to admit that something totally different will catch my eye then the normally story.

  8. Yeah, great post Jen. Never thought about it.

  9. I like the more realistic too, but the high concept really does grab your attention

  10. I hadn't even thought about this before! It's some good points though, higher stakes. I like the contemp that is easy and not stressful or intense but I like these with the higher stakes as well. I like a good mix.

  11. I like high concept, and while it'll probably be a trend we see more and more, eventually YA will grab on to the next shiny thing they think will sell books. Like love triangles, or dystopian. I read such a wide variety of books- from adult to YA, that I don't tend to get bored with the trends (except unrealistic love triangles- I don't mind reading a book with a really good, compelling love conflict, but most times boy#2 is just never gonna get it, so why waste my time?).

  12. Huh. I've always been a little fuzzy on "high concept" but this discussion was very helpful. I'd never thought about realistic fiction as being high concept, but I can see how that could be applied in certain circumstances.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

  13. I'd never really thought about it like this, but it stands to reason that if certain types of paranormal books go through cycles (vampires, weres, witches etc) then contemps will too, I definitely see more teen cancer books in our future!

    Mands @ The Bookish Manicurist


Post a Comment

Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope you will share your thoughts on this post!