I recently read an interview in which an editor at a major publishing house said she was tired of receiving young adult novels set in the 1960s. At first, I wondered what she had against that decade – from a historical standpoint, I find it pretty interesting. After reading further, though, I saw her real concern. She believed that many authors were adding a historical setting to novels that could easily have been contemporary.
Many people who are writing novels for young adults these days were teenagers themselves during the sixties, and, according to this editor, they set their novels during that time because it’s the teenage culture they know. They don’t feel they can write accurately about teens’ lives today because they’re unfamiliar with them, so they turn to what they remember. To an extent, I do agree with this editor, but I don’t feel the problem is limited to a single decade. To tell the truth, I’ve seen historical novels set in a variety of time periods that could easily be contemporary.
Loving history is definitely a good thing, but being fascinated with a particular historical period isn’t a good reason, in and of itself, to set a novel at that time. In my mind, if you’re going to consider your novel historical fiction, history has to be an integral part of it. If your characters and plot could just as easily exist in the modern day, you may want to rethink your setting. There are some stories that are just meant to be historical and some that are meant to be contemporary, and sometimes you may need to think to figure out which yours is.
Do you agree that there are some historical novels that could really take place in the modern day? Does history really need to play a major role in a book for it to be considered historical fiction?
Melissa Luttman is Associate Editor for Young Adult History/Historical Fiction at Wonders & Marvels.