Chatterbox: Why I Read Contemporaries

November 4, 2015 by Jenna | Books, Chatterbox, Features

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For those of you who know me, you’ll know that YA contemporary is my favourite genre. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love fantasy and sci-fi, but my preferred genre is (and always has been) contemporary. So today, I’m going to give you a couple of reasons why I love to read contemporaries, and hopefully inspire some of you fantasy-readers to pick up some more books that are set in our own world. I have a list of contemporary recommendations at the end of this post πŸ™‚

Great Diversity

With the We Need Diverse Books campaign, there has been a recent boom in the number of diverse books released in the contemporary genre (see my co-blogger, Aila’s post for some extra reading on diversity). What I appreciate most about contemporary is the amazing diversity there is in the genre. Contemporary books now regularly feature POC, mentally ill, or LGBTQ+ characters and it’s becoming easier and easier for readers to find characters that represent who they are. There’s nothing more devastating than reading a book and finding that there isn’t any aspect of the main character that you can relate to. The diversity in contemporary fiction has really addressed that problem, making it easier for us to read about a variety of different cultures and values.

One For Every Occasion

I am a mood reader but no matter what my mood is, I can always find a contemporary to suit it. There is such variety in contemporary that there’s really one for every occasion. When I’m in a reading slump, I can pick up one of the many light, fluffy contemporaries that are out there. If I’m feeling sad about the state of my relationship status, I can pick up about first love. When I’m in the mood for something a little bit more dark and serious, there’s a whole selection of those too. There are also a great list of books that focus on family dynamics. And if you’re a teenager who’s feeling a little bit unsure of who you are, there are a range of coming-of-age stories that you might be able to relate to. If you’re looking for variety, you won’t be let down by the contemporary genre!

Real Life Situations

Although the main character might not be battling an evil villain using a super unique superpower, I appreciate that contemporary books are about real life situations that we encounter in the real world. I enjoy reading about things that could potentially happen to me, or situations that I can relate to. Let’s be real, I’m never going to marry the Prince of a kingdom, but I might meet a cute boy who helps me fix my broken down car and goes to the cinema with me. I think it is this realness that makes contemporary the genre that gives me the most intense feels. I rarely cry when I read fantasy books, but contemporaries have the power to make me tear up from happiness and sadness.

I also appreciate that characters in contemporary novels need to use their own strength to overcome adversity. There are rarely deus ex machina devices that help them get out of their troubles. They can’t just unlock a hidden ability that will help them vanquish their depression or their father’s new family. Contemporary characters go through immense character growth to overcome their fears and problems. So even though these characters may not have the badassery or toughness that Celaena Sardothien possesses, they have a different kind of strength that actually inspires me to become a stronger person.

Even though contemporaries don’t involve an imaginative world with magical creatures, they still take me on an adventure. I’ve only lived my own life, with my own narrow set of experiences. So despite being set in the world that we currently live in, contemporary books still allow me to experience something that I’ve never experienced before. They can still take me to countries that I’ve never travelled to before, or give me siblings that I’ve never had the pleasure of knowing. Contemporaries are by no means ordinary or mundane!

Standalones vs Series

Most contemporary novels are standalones, with the exception of some duologies. There’s no need to commit to the characters long term, and you also don’t need to spend money on more than one book. Contemporaries are resolved by the end of the book, which means no cliffhangers, and you don’t need to wait in anticipation for the next book. Standalone novels also have the advantage of being easy to reread. If I was in a bad mood and wanted to read a light, happy contemporary that I know I’ll enjoy, I can easily pick one from my shelf to reread. Nobody has time to reread a whole series when there are so many new books out there to read! (I do plan to reread my favourite series/trilogies at some point though).

YA Contemporary Recommendations

Here are 15 of my favourite YA contemporary novels that I’ve read this year:

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the YA contemporary genre. What you do like or dislike about it? If you’re a contemporary reader like I am, why do you continue to read contemporaries? If you’re not a contemporary reader, what stops you from reading the genre?

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Jenna is an Aussie blogger and reader who loves to indulge in great books and great food. You can usually find me binge reading series, fangirling with fellow readers, devouring pastries, or watching trivia game shows like The Chase Australia. You can find me on Twitter @jennalzhao

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68 responses to “Chatterbox: Why I Read Contemporaries

    • I hope you continue to read and discover more contemporaries πŸ˜€ There are a lot of great 2016 contemporary releases that I'm highly anticipating!!

  1. All four of these reasons are definitely why I read contemporary too! I do love fantasy, but sometimes it's nice to just sit back and look through the horde of contemporary I own and find something that can fit my mood. And they're so much more diverse than fantasy, at least in being realistic and relatable to people because they're about real life and real situations. It's so great when I can find one that really hits home, something that never happens in any other genre quite like contemporary. And also the whole standalone thing doesn't hurt either. πŸ˜€

    Great post, Jenna!
    My recent post The NaNoWriMo Tag

    • Sometimes I get into this contemporary mood where I don't read anything but contemporaries for weeks and weeks… and it's all because there's so much variety and diversity! I never get bored of the genre because I can always find something that explores a different topic or theme! Contemporaries are the best!!

  2. Marianne @ Boricuan Bookworms

    Jenna, I could not agree more! I think Contemporary is one of my favorite genres because of all the reasons you've listed above. I love that there's always a contemporary for anyone. I've read some of the books you listed, but I will definitely check the others. Great post!

    • Yay! I hope you check out the ones you haven't read because I love all of those recommendations so, so much! I think they were all 5 star reads for me πŸ™‚

  3. Eugenia

    What a fantasic post Jenna! Contemporary reads are often relatable, and there's so many different sub-genres within that to find just what you need for every mood. I love books from Morgan Matson, Ginger Scott and Jessi Kirby in particular πŸ™‚

    • Sadly I've only read one Morgan Matson (Since You've Been Gone) and one Jessi Kirby (Things We Know By Heart) but I'm keen to pick up some more of their books! I've been saving Amy and Roger's Epic Detour and Second Chance Summer for the summer, which is quickly approaching now!

  4. I used to fear contemporary and wrongly thought it was all depressing and dreary and sad. Contemporary (in my opinion) is the most literary and sophisticated in terms of themes and messages to impart. If people bash Young Adult, I'll direct them towards some poignant contemporary reads to change their minds. Not bashing on other genres, but contemporary has an edge to it that can inspire and change us greatly, maybe since it's closer to reality. Sorry I'm rambling now…

    Diversity is so important, and I love how more and more books (contemporary and not) are branching out into diverse territories. I love how contemporary has so many different sects, happy, sad, thought-provoking, pure fun. There's something in it for everyone!

    Great post πŸ™‚

    • I agree with everything in your ramble though πŸ˜€ People are missing out when they dismiss Young Adult. There are definitely some contemporaries that make me feel like I'm too old for YA, but most of them are so beautifully written and diverse that they could appeal to an older audience!

    • Oh yes! One of my favourite things about contemporary novels is the lyrical and beautiful writing. Books like I'll Give You The Sun have such beautiful writing that you don't see very often in fantasy books! I love books with alternate formatting and they are nearly always contemporaries. I didn't notice that until you pointed it out πŸ˜€

  5. kseniasbookblog

    I love contemporary too, Jenna. The main reason is that these books are more real: real people, real life situations. It’s easier to connect with characters. You are so right about standalones; there aren’t many of contemporary series. I have a hard time with cliffhangers, so it’s definitely a plus for me. I’m so happy you joined Happy Indulgence, I hope you would convince Jeann and Aila to read more contemporary books. Great post!
    My recent post Review: The Return (Titan #1) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

    • Hehe thank you so much, Ksenia! I'll try my best to convert Jeann and Aila into contemporary readers! They're definitely attached to their sci-fi and fantasy though πŸ™‚

  6. I never used to read contemporaries. I assumed I would be bored by the fact that they are set in the world I live in, and these things could happen to me. Then I bought Jennifer E. Smiths 'The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight'. I really enjoyed it, I didn't love it but it opened me up to reading more contemporaries and now I'm quite addicted haha. I definitely enjoy breaking up a whole bunch of fantasy/ dystopian with some cute, fluffy contemporary. I'm just annoyed it took me this long to get to them!
    My recent post Book Review: Nil

    • I loved all of Jennifer E. Smith's books, including The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight. I really enjoyed the family elements in the book and I'm so happy that I read it. I hope you continue to enjoy many more contemporaries πŸ™‚

  7. keionda

    Awesome post J! And everything you said here I can agree with! Although I'm not a huge fan of Contemporary (yet) I'm going to take your advice and buy some! When I'm in the mood for some light reading, I'll make sure to have these bad boys at my side! Now, I've never actually cried with a book before and not sure if I ever will but you're totally right in that contemporaries pack on the FEELS! Thanks for the epic advice girl! I think I'm going to start with Perks with being a Wildflower! xoxo

    • Hehe I think you just need to find the right contemporary that will unlock the genre for you πŸ˜€ Perks of Being a Wallflower will definitely make you cry at some point! It's probably a little bit harder to get into because it's written as a series of letters but I couldn't put the book down because I was so invested in Charlie's story. I hope you love him too!

  8. YA Contemporary is my favorite genre, too! I switch between a few other genres occasionally and I definitely love the occasional dystopian but I stick by YA C! I totally agree. YA C also keeps it real, for the most part, especially in books like Saint Anything and Since You've Been Gone. I really love standalones, too. They're so fun and I love to see everything resolved by the end of the book! Sometimes, series annoy me, especially when an author continues an overdone, overdrawn trilogy. And I still need to read Becky's debut! Lovely post, Jenna!
    My recent post Review: Gossip Girl

    • Oh yes, the thing I hate most about trilogies is the second book slump. More often than not, it's a filler book before an epic third book, which I find kind of unnecessary. If only they could be resolved in the same book like contemporaries… Simon VS is amazing! It's an extremely quick read so you should definitely check it out πŸ™‚

  9. Great post. One of the things that I love about contemporaries is the whole stand alone thing. As much as I love fantasy books, it is so hard to find stand alone fantasies. I also can find one according to my mood, like you said. I'll Give You The Sun is one of my favorite contemporaries that I read this year. I think Sea of Tranquility is one of my favorite contemporaries EVER!
    My recent post BOOK REVIEW: Dead Ringer by Jessie Rosen

    • I think I can say that I'll Give You The Sun is my favourite contemporary ever. But I haven't heard of The Sea of Tranquility so I'll have to check it out since it's your favourite πŸ™‚ The summary on Goodreads sounds really great and right up my alley!

  10. I'm a massive fan of contemporaries too Jenna, especially anything that has a lyrical element to the writing like Jandy Nelson for example. I find them much easier to read and review as well. I love that contemporary authors are so much more diverse as well, they seem to have embraced the market and how so many readers are calling out for more true to life characters who are a real representation of our communities too. I think when it comes to realism though, they're based on real world situations but over dramatised. It isn't always needed though and would love to see authors strip back these storylines and create something real that teens can relate to without romanticising everything as well. Incredible discussion poppet, really enjoyed reading your thoughts and thanks for the recommendations too <3
    My recent post Guylight… That didn't go so well

    • I do agree that some of them are overdramatised, which is probably why I love books that focus on family dynamics so much. Those usually feel the most real to me because the main focus isn't on a romance that feels like something the author wished had happened to them in real life πŸ™‚ Hehe, it's a fine balance between beautiful writing, realism and a captivating plot, I guess.

    • I get what you mean, Lexxie. I really, really enjoy contemporary duologies because we get to spend extra time with the characters. I definitely wish there were more duologies or trilogies out there in the contemporary genre. I could spend years with Lara Jean and her sister Kitty from To All The Boys I've Loved Before.

  11. Rachel Lightwood

    I completely agree, Jenna! As much as I love a good fantasy or paranormal, contemporary will always be my go to genre for most of the reasons that you said above. The characters are usually so much more realistic and lovable, and the fact they're usually standalones is also more appealing.

    There's a lot of recs there that I know I must get to soon, but I agree that Since You've Been Gone, Isla and Simon are all amazing!
    My recent post {Rachel Reviews} Black Blood by John Hennessy

    • I have to admit that fantasy boys have a special place in my heart because they're so beautiful and other-worldly… but I love contemporary boys for the opposite reason. They're so realistic and they actually feel achievable (since I'm like forever alone).

  12. aentee @ read at midnight

    Loving your first discussion post ever, Jenna! I like the occasional contemporary because it can tackle some hard hitting issues head on. They're also extremely important when you need something directly relatable to your own life experiences. E.g. Fangirl omg let me clutch that book to my heart forever. ALSO please stop mentioning Simon VS everywhere, I FEEL BAD.

    • I put that one in just for you. Nah just kidding, I LOVE THAT BOOK. Read it! It will give you all the warm and fuzzy feels you didn't know you needed in your life.

    • Thanks Lisa! Lately I've been talked into starting and binge reading certain trilogies but hopefully I can start getting back to reading more contemporaries! I miss them so much πŸ™‚

  13. As in most of the YA novels out there, I find that there's always a tendency for regurgitated story arches. It doesn't matter how they dressed it, it always sounds like an echo of another book. That being said, I will always read contemporary fiction first over fantasy. *shrugs*
    My recent post [587]: Brown-Eyed Girl by Lisa Kleypas

    • There is definitely a tendency for contemporaries to sound similar but I like the variety that each one brings something new to the table! And I'd much rather read a slightly unoriginal contemporary than a fantasy… since contemporaries are based on real life events and there's only so much that you can write about that's original.

  14. Braine-Talk Supe

    Of all the things you entioned, I'm all for the standalones! It's a big relief to not be saddled with a series sometimes. No pressure, just total closure after the last page.
    My recent post November12: Boutonnière

    • I love that about them too! There's nothing better than closure and a sense of complete resolution! I also like that contemporary sequels aren't a must-read. You can be completely satisfied with just the first book.

  15. Claire

    Such a great post! I really love contemporary as well, especially in summer:) i love stephanie perkins!!

    Love ,
    Claire
    BookswithClaire.blogspot.com

    • Oh man, I love summery contemporaries!! They put me in the most amazing mood. I bought Jenny Han's The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy months and months ago but I'm going to wait until Summer to read them. They're going to be amazing! And Stephanie Perkins is the queen of fluffy contemporaries. They warm my heart!

  16. sumlynnnguyen

    Wonderful discussion post, Jenna! I loved the realism and standalone section of this talk especially. I so agree, I don't have much trouble finding a contemporary that fits my mood or life at a certain time either. And thank you for the recommendation list! I haven't read any of those titles believe it or not. Other books by those authors, yes, but not the ones you've compiled. Or wait-I did read Saint Anything because I adore Sarah Dessen and read all her books upon release pretty much. πŸ˜›
    My recent post Exploring My Bookshelves: October

    • Hehe I still need to go through and finish reading my Sarah Dessen collection. I read a whole heap of her books when I was in high school but stopped reading regularly during undergrad. So I have this huge gap in the middle. But Saint Anything was such a great comeback for me! It was amazing! Now go read all my other recs!

  17. True. There is a lot of diversity in the genre … I can get light and fluffy or dark and angsty or anything between. I'm a total mood reader too, so having so many choices like that is important to me. Great post!
    My recent post Cam Girl by Leah Raeder

    • OMG I'm so jealous that you got to interview Becky! She's always so sweet and kind to her readers on social media!!! Simon is one of my favourite books too! I really want a sequel to that book… I don't even care if it's just a fluffy Simon and Blue romance story πŸ˜€

  18. mymidnightmusing

    Although I'm more of a fantasy girl myself, I have a huge appreciation for contemporary books. I think people seem to overlook the depth and complexities that are explored in the characters of contemporary books. It's so great to see how diverse the books can be and I always find that I relate to the characters on some levels. I find that when I'm reading a series I usually need a break between the books because they can get a bit too dark and intense and a contemporary is a great book to fill in the gap.
    Also great recommendations. I've read and loved so many of those books and I'm quite excited to get tucked in to a new contemporary book.
    – Lois
    My recent post Waiting on Wednesday: The Raven King

    • Thanks Lois! I love them as fillers in between marathoning series as well! They're great as fillers since they're standalones! I'm happy to see more books in the fantasy genre that feature diverse characters but I wish there were more fantasy books ABOUT diversity instead of just featuring diverse characters. That's probably the biggest reasons why I prefer contemporaries.

  19. YES to this post, Jenna! I love almost every genre, but contemporary is my go to genre. Whenever I'm going through a slump, it's usually a good old contemporary that saves reading for me. I appreciate the diversity too and I think for me the most important element is the realism, if that makes any sense. And YES to the standalone comment. Series can be aggravating for me at times, so I'm glad that almost every contemporary is a standalone. There's no waiting, worrying about potential love triangles or second book syndrome.
    Great post, Jenna!
    My recent post Monthly Recap: October 2015

    • YES! Contemporary lovers unite! Second book syndrome is the worst! But contemporary sequels almost never have second book syndrome. I nearly always love them as much as the first one (eg. PS I Still Love You, Just One Year). And the great thing about contemporary sequels is that there's no cliffhanger at the end of the first book. You could read it as a standalone, and pick up the sequel if you want to read more. OMG I LOVE CONTEMPORARIES πŸ˜€

  20. paperskiesya

    I have read and loved a LOT of books that you mentioned up there πŸ™‚ I completely understand how contemporaries can be more relatable, and I guess the realistic aspect of contemporaries, while for you may be a driving factor, is what eventually makes me pick up a sci-fi instead. But lovely list, Jeann, and if you haven't seen a total revamp of my old blog Symphony of Words, here it is: http://www.paperskies.org/
    My recent post Goodbye, Symphony of Words!

    • I'm still slowly getting into sci-fi but I do love how imaginative the worlds are in that genre. I really enjoy reading about what our world could potentially be like in the future!

  21. I've really started to appreciate contemporary books in the last year and a half or so. I used to just read fantasy, but contemporary books can be such mood boosters! I love a good fluffy romance (or an agent one, let's be honest) after reading a really complex world. They are so easy to sink into, and I can read them super fast so it feels rewarding when I finish them! I really need to read I'll Give You the Sun already!
    My recent post It’s NaNovember! Let’s get to writing!

    • Exactly! I forgot about that point. I love reading contemporaries to break up my fantasy reads. I'll Give You The Sun is my favourite YA novel so I hope you can get to it soon! It's really a masterpiece!

  22. YAAAS to all those recs! I love me some good coming-of-age stories. πŸ˜› Your points were on-fleek Jenna, and although I wouldn't automatically go to contemporaries, the reasons I do are basically listed above. I also love the fact that they're stand-alones; sometimes it just gets tiring reading series by the 3 or 5. The only reason I'm not a big reader of contemporaries is because I myself like to be taken to another world when reading, (Fantasy ftw haha :D)

    • Thanks Aila!! I love the imaginative worlds of fantasy and sci-fi too so I totally understand. But one day I will convert you XD

  23. Grace @ RebelMommyBB

    Contemporaries are my favorite too πŸ™‚ And pretty much for all the reasons you stated. I especially think the real life situations and stand alones. Even if it is a series it usually shorter. You picked some amazing ones in your recs. All the ones I read I love and the rest are on my TBR πŸ™‚ Great post!
    My recent post Review ~ Cam Girl

    • I hope you get to read some of the ones that are on your TBR! I absolutely love that they're nearly all standalones! There's nothing better than being able to start and finish a story in the same book. I love the thrill that comes from finishing a long series but standalones are just so magical in the way that everything is all tied up at the end of the novel!

  24. Ahh, I'm a bit of a fantasy nut myself. XD I think I love fantasy for a lot of the opposite of these reasons. OMG I LOVE MAGIC AND THINGS THAT ARE IMPOSSIBLE. Buuut, that all saying, there are a lot of reasons I love contemporary on this list too. Mainly being able to relate. I adore relating to characters and as epic as it is to read about someone who kicks butt and is absolutely fabulous… I love reading about the anxious awkward characters too because, omg, ME. I could be best friends with them. :') And I also like that there are more standalones in contemporaries!! I'm hopeless at finishing series. πŸ˜›

    • Hehe, I'm the same! I love being able to read contemporaries and think OMG THIS AWKWARD PERSON IS SO ME. I think strong fantasy protagonists are really great and they leave me in awe of their strength, but contemporary characters inspire me in a completely different way! I do enjoy the magic and the impossibility of things though, which is probably why I love magical realism! It's the most perfect blend of contemporary and magic πŸ™‚

    • I'm so happy to find some fellow contemporary readers! I absolutely love Robyn Schneider's books. They really came as a surprise to me. I wasn't expecting them to be so good!! I've given 5 stars to both of her books so far and I can't wait to read something else by her (even though my heart gets broken each time)!!!

  25. SO MANY FANTASTIC BOOKS HERE. Although fantasy is my preferred genre you have me convinced about the value of our contemporary reads! It's definitely more relatable and the plus is more diversity. I absolutely LOVED Simon Versus the Homo Sapiens Agenda and Ari and Dante, and Fangirl and Since You've been Gone! Looks like we definitely have a similar taste hehe. Great first discussion post Jenna, you've got a knack for it!

    • Hehe thanks Jeann! It was slightly stressful putting it together since it was so last minute but I'm glad everyone seems to be enjoying it πŸ˜€ I will probably harass you and Aila into reading more contemporaries!!

  26. Excellent post, Jenna. Contemporary is my favorite genre as well. I hate when people say that contemporaries are all the same, that they aren't complex, and that they have no world building. NOT TRUE. Contemporary has all of these things and more. For me contemporary is a genre that always stands the test of time. We see so many fads as readers that come and go (vampires, dystopia, etc…) but I can always rely on contemporary to be there.
    My recent post Must Read Before 2016

    • Thanks Sashana!! Haha I feel the same way! Contemporaries may not have a complex world like fantasy books do, but they have complex relationships and characters who go through tough real life situations!