Friday, August 9, 2013

We read a lot of contemporary fiction here at We Heart YA, and we've noticed a surprising trend: musical geniuses. First there was Mia in IF I STAY. (Raise your hand if you are totally stoked for that movie, btw!) Then Lyla in GUITAR NOTES. And most recently, Kiri in WILD AWAKE and Lucy in THE LUCY VARIATIONS.

If I Stay (If I Stay #1) Guitar Notes Wild Awake The Lucy Variations

Things we like about this trend:
-- Girls who are interested in something besides romance.
-- Girls who are extremely talented.
-- Positive depiction of classical music (which is truly lovely to listen to, you guys).

There isn't anything we dislike about this trend. However, we do find it a bit ... funny. Like, sure, most of us play an instrument or took lessons at some point in our lives. But how many musical prodigies do you actually know?

So, if these people are not particularly plentiful in real life, why are they getting so much representation in YA literature?

We don't know for sure, but we have a couple theories:

-- Giving protagonists a very special skill automatically makes them "special." Also, people tend to like/admire talented individuals (like athletes, actors, musicians, etc.), so of course we would want to read about them.

-- Authors identify with creative personalities and their unique struggles, but might not want their protagonists to be writers.

-- Authors are often inspired by music, and may want to share some of their favorite pieces with their audiences. (This can also happen with non-prodigy characters, through a character's road trip playlist, for example.)

-- Counterintuitively, being specific allows a broader audience to connect. So even if we readers aren't passionate about piano or violin, we can identify with these heroines because we are just as passionate about something else. Maybe we understand why they practice for hours on end, because we spend that kind of time and energy on ______ (fill in the blank -- video games, knitting, soccer, etc.).

Whatever the reasons, this trend stands out, but not in a way that makes us worry about it becoming a tired clich√©. Because each of the 4 examples deals with the trend quite differently. For example, IF I STAY isn't really about Mia's talent; that's just part of who she is. In GUITAR NOTES and THE LUCY VARIATIONS, Lyla and Lucy are both struggling to find joy in music again, because their talent has turned into pressure instead of pleasure. And in WILD AWAKE, Kiri uses music to keep hold of herself in the midst of immense personal crisis and confusion.

So there's a wide range of possibilities, even within the trend. And perhaps these characters and stories are all just a testament to the power of music -- of art -- as a positive force in our lives.

Why do you think there are so many musical prodigies in YA? Do you identify with them, or is their talent (and the world it puts them into) too foreign for you? Have we left out any musically-gifted protagonists? What other character trends have you noticed?


Suzanne said...

I've been playing piano since I was 5, flute since age 12, dabbled in cello, piccolo, played in orchestras, sang in choirs, ended up doing a Bachelor's and Master's in music - you get the picture. What I find most annoying about this 'prodigy' trend is that it isn't real in that a genuine is extremely rare. Rather, there are talented musicians who work hard and practice exorbitant numbers of hours a day - that's the reality of the vast majority of even gifted musicians. 10% talent/gift, 90% practice.
I've read several of the more classical music books (like Sea of Tranquility and Want, Notes from Ghost Town features a piano 'prodigy' love interest) and they're wonderful when the authors get the details right. They're downright annoying when it's clear the authors don't know Bach from Beethoven, or when they describe a chord or element of the music incorrectly.
In short, I have a love-hate relationship with these stories because I think I know too much to suspend disbelief for any of the music related content.

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

I love the musical prodigy trend although I hadn't really noticed it happening. Though I myself am far from a prodigy, I do study piano and viola so anything related to music makes me happy.

Sarah Hipple said...

Huh. That's a cool trend. I think music is one of the most widely accessible art forms (using art in its broadest sense). Not everyone likes to read or draw or go look at paintings, but pretty much everyone likes at least one genre of music.

In short music's cool, so I guess I'm not surprised it's showing up.

I do get Suzanne's point - wanting the authors to show the pain of practicing that really gets those prodigies where they are. I'm a bit less picky though. They'd better spend SOME time practicing, though.

Mia Hayson said...

I think it's also to do with the emotion you can express through music if you have the skill? There's a lot of scope for pure raw emotion to shoot out in a scene with a musician, maybe. Like, in The Sky is Everywhere, in which the main character plays the clarinet. She bottles up all these emotions and all this grief and so the first time she plays again it comes out as this awful screeching noise that mirrors her insides and is painful to read because you know the music is her.



Candice @ The Grown-Up YA said...

I'm a little torn about that. Like you said, how many prodigies do you REALLY know? I do love that these characters have a focus on something else because relationships and drama. I think I would prefer the type of character who works at their craft - be it music, art, writing, cheerleading, etc - and maybe isn't perfect or a prodigy; I really like those kinds of characters because 99% of the time, that's how talent is created. You have to work to be good! Anyway... huge tangent. Love this topic and I really agree with you on it! :)

Rebecca @ Crunchings and Munchings said...

I *love* characters who are obsessed with things or are experts at things! Great post—can you please convince someone to write a novel where the protagonist is a knitting prodigy?!

Kristan said...

I know what you mean. The hurdle of believability is always higher when you're an insider.

Good point! Music IS very accessible.

I totally forgot about the music stuff in THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE! (I usually focus on the grandma, uncle, and poetry.)

BWAHAHA that would be awesome.

iLuvReadingTooMuch said...

This is such an interesting post! I had really no idea that there was such a trend (like Bookworm1858 noticed), but I definitely do love books that are music-themed. I have The Lucy Variations sitting on my shelf waiting to be read, so I'll have to give that a try!
I would also think like the books Just Listen by Sarah Dessen and Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez also fit in this trend. I'm also pretty sure this wont become one of those huge trends, thankfully, because all the books that deal with music and talented people all tend to be really original :D
Great post!

We Heart YA said...

Ooohh, we'll have to check those 2 out! Thanks. :)

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Stephanie, Ingrid, Sarah & Kristan — we read, write, discuss and celebrate Young Adult lit.



on the shelf

The Bitter Kingdom
Wild Awake
The Raven Boys
Mind Games
Eleanor and Park
The Shattered Mountain
The Shadow Cats
Froi of the Exiles
Days of Blood & Starlight
Every Day
Jellicoe Road
Finnikin of the Rock
Guitar Notes
The Dead-Tossed Waves
The Crown of Embers
New House 5: How A Dorm Becomes A Home
The Fault in Our Stars

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