Are YA authors jumping on the nostalgia train?

Nostalgia is a business. When was the last time you heard news about a new film that wasn’t a remake or a sequel or prequel or midquel or any other kind of ‘quel’ there is?

Much like they did with their dreaded sequel phase, Disney are in the midst of a remake frenzy that doesn’t seem to be approaching an end anytime soon (although I wish it would – give me new content, Disney!) and yet another Ghostbusters remake is on the way, while February saw a new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma hit the big screen.

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With shows like Stranger Things and films like IT: Chapter One there’s been a real nostalgia for the ’80s in pop culture over the past few years; everyone wants to be comforted with the familiar while the world outside us (quite literally) burns, and now it seems like it’s a trend that’s hit YA publishing, too.

We’ve already had she-who-must-not-be-named return to the world of Harry Potter with The Cursed Child and the Fantastic Beasts films, but she’s not the only author returning to familiar territory.

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In 2018 Tahereh Mafi returned to her Shatter Me series four years after the release of the final book in her trilogy, Ignite Me, with the first book in a follow-up trilogy, Restore Me, that’s concluded with the publication of Imagine Me in March. 2018 also saw Mary E. Pearson return to the world of The Remnant Chronicles with the first book in a new duology, Dance of Thieves, which concluded with Vow of Thieves in 2019.

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And this year Marie Rutkoski, Rae Carson and Suzanne Collins are all returning to the worlds of their most famous YA trilogies.

We have The Midnight Lie, set in the same world as The Winner’s Trilogy, The Empire of Dreams, a direct follow up to the Fire and Thorns trilogy, and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, the prequel to The Hunger Games that literally no one asked for.

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Is this a new trend, or is it just coincidence that so many authors are returning to worlds and characters they’ve written about before?

First thing’s first, I would never tell an author what to write. The Hunger Games prequel is something I have zero interest in, regardless of who it’s about, because prequels just aren’t my thing. I’m one of (what feels like) the few Harry Potter fans who has no interest in a Marauders prequel because I already know what’s going to happen to everyone, so there’s no suspense. When it comes to prequels I’d much rather know what fandoms think than the original creators – especially when the Fantastic Beasts franchise is a prequel in which, once again, Dumbledore hasn’t been written as a gay man so I can’t necessarily trust authors to do their characters justice when they revisit them.

If President Snow’s origin story is what Suzanne Collins wanted to write then more power to her, but she might have to understand that it’s a story quite a few people won’t want to read.

I also don’t know how to feel when readers (like myself!) are immediately suspicious about an author returning to a world they’ve written about before. It’s a whole other world, after all, so why wouldn’t there be more stories to tell? We’d never say there are too many stories set on Earth, and authors like Leigh Bardugo and Cassandra Clare have become well-known in YA for expanding on beloved worlds they’ve created.

Marie Rutkoski’s new book, for example, does intrigue me because a) it’s queer and you all know by now that I love my queer stories, and b) like Six of Crows and the Grisha trilogy, it doesn’t appear to be necessary to read The Winner’s Trilogy before picking this book up.

That being said, I can’t help being a little suspicious of authors who aren’t only returning to worlds they’ve previously explored, but who are returning to the exact same characters.

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You should take everything I say with a grain of salt because, other than The Hunger Games, I haven’t read any of these very popular YA novels that are receiving companion novels or direct sequels. Therefore, my opinion doesn’t matter in the slightest compared to the opinions of the fans of these authors and these series. Even so, I still don’t know how I feel about authors returning to characters whose stories supposedly ended some years before.

I think one of the major problems with these sequels that come years later, especially to books or series that have pretty big fanbases, is that the fandom has already imagined what happened to these characters post-book. Fans can disagree, but they’re still free to imagine what their favourite characters are doing without the author stepping in to correct them (looking at you, Rowling).

When the author returns some years after the end of a series, it can disrupt that relationship between the author and their fans and, subsequently, the fans and the books—especially if the author returns with something completely different to what fans have imagined for the past four or five years. This isn’t a problem if the majority of the fandom are wondering what happened next, but many fans like to imagine what happens next for themselves and this is especially true for the fans of series that seemed to have a definite ending.

Some series are timeless, but there are others that are rather dated; early 2010s YA fantasy and sci-fi was full of so many cliches that wouldn’t work if they were written that way today, and the fandom is likely to be divided between people who want to see more of the same and people who want to see a continuation that, in some ways, is a response to the original series. Will a series still hold up today if it was initially successful years before?

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I’m sure part of the fun for the author must be being able to have a conversation with their own work and examine something; perhaps, looking back, they’ve realised how white and straight their fantasy world was, or they want their heroine to point out to her partner that his possessiveness isn’t cute in the slightest. Then again, is this not something they could explore in a different, new fantasy world instead?

I suppose, though, that one of the most important things we must remember about publishing is that it’s a business first and foremost. I know that can sound like such a cynical outlook on an industry that brings book lovers so much joy, and in my experience the people who work in publishing truly care about what they do, but publishing couldn’t afford to take chances on new writers or new concepts without the money brought in by what they already know works. That’s why YA publishing benefits so much from ‘trends’. The amount of YA dystopian fiction released after the success of The Hunger Games was there to bring publishers more money because they knew it was going to sell, in much the same way that authors know what’s going to sell when they sit down to write.

We might not want a return to certain series and characters, but those of us who are fans of those series would still be the first in line to buy a new book even if it wasn’t something we wanted. So, yeah, I imagine some authors are jumping on the nostalgia train, but I don’t think it’s anything we can fault them for. We should never get angry with authors for putting out books they know are going to make them money because how else are they going to feed themselves and pay their bills? We need to get rid of this idea of the starving artist.

That doesn’t mean authors aren’t still passionate about the stories they’re telling if they happen to be stories that return to worlds, and particularly characters, we’ve seen before, but if an author relies on big sales to keep a roof over their head I don’t think we can blame them for jumping on an opportunity when yet another trend sweeps through the publishing industry!

Do you like it when authors return to the same characters or do you prefer to imagine the events post-book for yourself?

17 thoughts on “Are YA authors jumping on the nostalgia train?

  1. Angela says:

    I think for me it depends on the series. I want to read the new Hunger Games and Twilight books, but I have absolutely no interest in any of the Harry Potter spin-offs. And I’m a huge Harry Potter fan! Sometimes I feel like having all these extra sequels, prequels, etc. kind of dilutes the original, but as long as people keep reading them, they’ll keep happening!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. waytoofantasy says:

    Hmmm, on the one hand I hate that there’s not a ton of new content (especially in movies!). Books, at least I feel like I can find more variety here still although I do eyeroll a bit when there is a new book in a series that comes out over ten years than the previous one.

    On the other hand I didn’t realize there was a new Rae Carson book set in that universe and now I want to read it LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jess @ Jessticulates says:

      Haha I still haven’t read the Fire and Thorns series but I really want to, so maybe by the time I get to it won’t be weird that there’s now a fourth book!

      That’s a really good point–I think we can find more originality in a new book than in a new film. Remakes are just the same story again, at least new sequels are usually something a bit different. Thanks for leaving your thoughts! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Molly's Book Nook says:

    I didn’t even notice how many there were! That’s crazy. And now there’s even Twilight revisited. My goodness. I mean, I guess I’d go into any of them with a bit of skepticism. If it’s just a trend, are they as good as the original story? Or did the author just quickly pump something out? But also, if I really love the world, I would read it because I want to know what else the creator of that world has come up with.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jess @ Jessticulates says:

      Yeah as I said I can’t blame an author for pumping a book out if it pays their bills–we’d never criticise any other profession for making money by doing their job–but when a series or world is so loved by fans, there’s always that worry that a new book will feel different in all the worst ways. Thanks so much for leaving your thoughts!

      Like

  4. Dani @ Literary Lion says:

    I’ve noticed this a lot recently too and honestly, I’m here for it. I love authors revisiting their popular works years after the fact. I feel like stepping away and then coming back gives them a new perspective. I’m actually in the middle of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes and I’m loving this new picture of Panem.

    I do also agree with you though that it becomes complicated for some series. Fans move on. They have their own ideas and stories set in the world that a recreation can suddenly make obsolete. With Harry Potter in particular the new stories trample over some of the canon from the original books in an effort to be interesting. I think the author has the right to do this but there are some things I won’t accept as canon in my own little world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jess @ Jessticulates says:

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying the new Hunger Games book! Yes, I think it’s when an author undoes something from the original series that bothers me when it comes to new books set in the same world or series, but I think them being able to come back to a series with a new perspective is a great point. And you’re so right that, as readers, we don’t necessarily have to accept what an author tells us is canon in the first place. 😉 Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. acquadimore says:

    This is really interesting! It’s overall a trend I usually don’t love unless the spin-offs are completely independent from the originals. For me, more than the “this is going to be a cash grab” worry (…with the exception of the Grishaverse, I don’t think the books I like are popular enough for a publisher to think that’s going to work) it’s about how having a sequel following the same characters often results in unmaking some character development, walking backwards, and ruining the previous ending I really liked. There’s definitely a divide between the people who want to know what happens next and the ones who want to imagine it for themselves, and I think being in group #2 doesn’t help with this.
    And I agree about many YA series not holding up! I don’t think any of my favorite series from before 2015 would in any way hold up today. (I’m realizing this is probably part of why I still haven’t even tried reading King of Scars…)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jess @ Jessticulates says:

      Thanks, Acqua! 😀 Yes, I know exactly what you mean. I feel like this is especially true with romances in YA; if it took until the end of the first series for a couple to get together, a follow-up series will often throw in pointless relationship drama instead of just showing us a strong, healthy couple and it’s so annoying. Haha I’m afraid I can’t really comment on King of Scars–I didn’t particularly like the original Grisha trilogy that much, so I enjoyed KoS a lot more anyway. Although I will say that the ending of KoS is a little frustrating.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Katie @ Melting Pages says:

    I think the issue I have with YA books going back and doing prequels is that they need to have enough history to the world to explore. I would probably enjoy it if we went hundreds (or thousands!) of years in the past to explore what the world was like then, but I’ve found that a lot of YA fantasy doesn’t have as much history involved in it as some adult fantasies do. I don’t have an issue with sequels, but there needs to be a reason for continuing on, not just because you want to see what they’re up to if that makes sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jess @ Jessticulates says:

      Yes, I know what you mean! As much as I’d never criticise writers for doing what they’re paid to do, I don’t like it when I can tell an author has forced their way through another story with the same characters despite not really having a story in mind. As much as I’m not a fan of prequels, I’d love to see more of them that take place long before the original story occurred. I don’t like direct prequels because they often introduce characters that leave me wondering why they weren’t in the original book or series, because it makes no sense, with how important they are, that they’d never been mentioned before. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 😀

      Like

  7. Emer @alittlehazebookblog says:

    I’m torn. Because the fangirl in me wants to revisit my fav characters… but the grumpy, disillusioned person who’s read a bazillion books doesn’t like it! Because the magic is never quite the same as in the original. It’s rare I think that a sequel or prequel cam ever be as good as the original. This is also why I prefer standalones. I’m always comparing books in series to each other and ultimately I end up never satisfied 😅😅😅

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jess @ Jessticulates says:

      I know what you mean! There are some characters I’d love to see again, but sometimes I don’t know if I actually want to see more of them or if I just want to re-read the book I’ve already read and loved. Thanks for stopping by, Emer! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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