Rationale for Subgenres

Have you ever been working on a project, and then stumbled across a paragraph that perfectly sums up exactly what you were trying to say? Confession time: I picked my genres because, well, these are periods in historical fiction I like to read. Building a recommendation list, I recognized their crossover appeal with other genres.

I had been thinking that historical fiction, especially for teens, had to work against a mental image of it being staid, and scholastic and nutritious. But that there’s a lot of historical fiction out there that appeals, because it’s a good story!

And then I read this for class: It’s an excerpt from “The Death of Genre: Why the Best YA Fiction Often Defies Classification.”

For the genre enthusiast, historical novels offer a variety of complex issues. The kingdom-and-the-castle story found in works like Megan Whelan Turner’s The Thief, Gerald Morris’ The Squire Tales, and Kevin Crossley-Holland’s The Seeing Stone blend medieval settings with magic and legend. Donna Jo Napoli’s retold fairy tales (Beast, Bound, Breath) borrow much from traditional literature but abound with rich historical details. Napoli’s novels are clearly fantasy titles; they also have much to offer to readers of historical fiction. Time-slip and time-travel novels present a similar dilemma—historical fiction or fantasy/science fiction? Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic, Susan Cooper’s The King of Shadows, Susan Price’s The Sterkarm Handshake,and Edward Bloor’s London Calling are filled with history yet are based on the premise of traveling back in time. One would be remiss to classify Philip Pullman’s trilogy about Sally Lockhart and Eleanor Updale’s Montmorency series as simple Victorian mysteries.

One cannot deny the historical qualities found in these novels.

What about speculative fiction, those historical novels that ask the difficult question of what if? In The Year of the Hangman, Gary Blackwood proposes the dilemma of what if the British had won the Revolutionary War. Finally, in which genre does one place Aiden Chambers’ Postcards from No Man’s Land? Chambers masterfully intertwines two narratives—one set in the 1990s and the other set during WWII—into his award-winning novel. Historical fiction or modern realistic? Neither or both?

Although time constraints prevented me from getting into alternate history as a subgenre of historical fiction, it absolutely is one. Sarah, a classmate in YA Genre Drama, found a great website: Uchronia: The Alternate History List

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