In the footsteps of Stephenie Meyer?

aaaaaCondie-Matched This past week’s Publishers Weekly has an article about the national market “debut” of LDS YA novelist Ally Condie, whose sixth novel, Matched, was released by Dutton on November 30th. Released is an understatement.

Dutton began with a 250,000 copy first printing and booksellers responded to the buzz around the novel. As a result the novel started at #2 on the ABA’s bestseller list (representing sales at independent bookstores). This morning it was ranked #223 on Amazon. The buzz has extended overseas, as foreign rights have been sold into 30 countries. Given that, it should come as no surprise that Disney has purchased an option for the film rights.

Sound familiar? The Wall Street Journal also noticed the parallel.

Unlike Meyer’s work, however, the subject matter of Matched boils down to a concept with philosophical heft, and one dear to Mormonism: freedom of choice. But it is also a dystopian novel, which, as far as I know, is unusual in Mormon literature (anyone know of other Mormon dystopian works? Is Meyer’s Twilight dystopian? Anything else?).

The novel, the first volume in a trilogy, is told from the perspective of a young girl nearing the age of marriage. She lives in a society in which nothing is left to chance–her food, work, and marriage are planned for her by “the Society,” the ruling religion in her world. Believing that the Society knows best, she accepts all this, until one day she is presented with evidence of the unthinkable: that the Society doesn’t know best.

I haven’t read Matched, but the descriptions have already enticed my 16-year-old daughter, so I’m sure it will be around the house within the next few weeks (who knows, the season of the year may have something to do with that). If nothing else these descriptions make me hopeful that this will be not only as popular as Meyer’s work, but have more substantial ideas to explore.

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52 thoughts on “In the footsteps of Stephenie Meyer?”

  1. Katya, I wasn’t aware of Dashner’s novels. Thanks for the pointer. You are right that they are dystopian (at least from the descriptions).

    It is interesting that Dashner is also publishing on the national market. I don’t suppose there are any dystopian works published by Deseret Book or the other mainstream LDS publishers.

  2. I’ve read Matched and thought it was great. Much better than Twilight: better writing, more thematic oomph, more nuanced. (I’m no Twilight expert, though–I’ve only read the first book.) There’s an interview with Condie in the upcoming issue of Irreantum, by the way. I hope Matched is a smashing success.

    I went to Barnes and Noble here in Minnesota last week and was struck by the sight of the “Great Reads for Christmas!” display in the teen section: Condie’s Matched, the second installment in Dashner’s Maze Runner series, OSC’s new YA title, Pathfinder, and a box set of the Twilight books. A bunch-o-Mormons, all in a row. I was tempted to take a picture with my cell phone. Perhaps I should have.

    It’s kind of mind boggling to consider how many Mormon writers have become extremely successful in YA. It’s equally mind boggling to consider the extraordinary dearth of Mormon writers in the mainstream adult market.

  3. I asked a question on Twitter the other day that got me some interesting responses (although not enough):

    What is it that adults are getting out of YA and MG novels that fiction for adults isn’t giving them?

  4. I ALSO think it’s a great question, Moriah. Would someone please answer it for me?

    And Kent, it’s -20 today with windchill, but if I venture back to B&N before Christmas (and I just might), I’ll snap a picture.

    One more thing: I read the great PW interview in your link, then I clicked on the PW “Best Books of 2010” article. Guess who made the top 10? Brady Udall’s Lonely Polygamist. So at least we have one Mormon author writing for adults who’s gaining a little attention.

  5. “What is it that adults are getting out of YA and MG novels that fiction for adults isn’t giving them?”

    Stories where sex and murder aren’t the only issues discussed by the story.

    The difference between this soon to be series and Twilight has started out to be critical acclaim. Those who liked or didn’t like Twilight for the most part were very visceral in their reactions. Matched is turning out to be considered a good read, but I don’t think it will come close to the success of the Twilight series relatively speaking. My own reaction is a disinterest in reading the books. Interesting enough, it sounds even more “girl centric” than the Twilight series that at least had vampires and werewolves.

  6. Angela, I have been watching the news, and given how much Minnesota got hammered over the weekend, I don’t blame you for not wanting to go back quite yet.

  7. “What is it that adults are getting out of YA and MG novels that fiction for adults isn’t giving them?”

    Stories where sex and murder aren’t the only issues discussed by the story.

    Ah, well, several tweeters suggested that people just don’t wanna grow up and/or learn a more difficult vocabulary and/or strain their minds for more adult concepts, so…

    Me? I don’t know. I read Twilight and while I LIKED it a LOT, I got claustrophobic by being sucked back into the narrow world of teenagerdom.

  8. I liked Eugene’s link a lot. So I guess, if we’re not reading YA/MG, we’re reading genre (any genre) to get our stories…?

    (I don’t have an opinion. I was asking because I don’t know.)

  9. Kent, I was going to point you to Dashner’s novels too. Glad Katya go to it!

    As for why adults don’t read more adult fiction, I can only speak for my experience, but, well, sometimes I don’t want to be challenged. Now I don’t mean intellectually challenged (although sometimes that is true. Everybody needs a little brain candy) Rather it’s more like a lot of people are already too tired and life is hard enough. Despite the fact that Brady Udall may be a better writer (I don’t know; I haven’t read it yet), sometimes I just want a Shannon Hale type story because I know it won’t leave me in the dumps.

    Or sometimes it’s a question of practicality–the YA section in my library is right next to the kid section so while my little ones run amok with the board books and primers I can sneak a couple rows over and snag a bunch of YA novels that will keep me reading for a couple weeks. If I wanted a grownup book I’d have to put everyone in the stroller and navigate the elevator and put up with all the old people giving me crusty looks. And as a reader on a mission to find Mormon books they are a lot easier to get in the YA section. I’m not adverse to interlibrary loan–it’s just that it’s harder to get it done.

    Also, for me (and I would venture for a lot of other readers) part of the fun of reading a book is talking about it with someone. A lot of the people I know read YA so I read it too.

    I also second the point about not wanting to read about sex and murder. There are grownup books I like and love to read but most of what’s in the adult market doesn’t strike me as anything more sophisticated than YA stuff. In fact, some of those bestsellers are not. They are just more gratuitous which doesn’t work for me.

    Maybe another thing is that a lot of readers don’t want to feel insulted by a book. Um, I’m not sure if I can explain this very well, but in my experience with book clubs it seems that a lot of people are intimidated by classics or grownup books and aren’t sure how to interact with them. As in, if they don’t like a book a what does that say about them and are people going to think they are stupid–that kind of thing. YA novels are just a lot less intimidating that way. They are easier to parse and the fact that they are all rooted in teenagerdom makes them easy to relate to and interact with.

    I’m excited for Condie’s book. I’ll have to figure out a way to get myself a copy! Although, I didn’t respond very well to Dashner’s Mazerunner so I might have to temper my excitement a little.

  10. It’s fractal. YA/MG is a “super-genre” that consists of many sub-genres.

    Anime and manga, for example, are mediums made up of hundreds of unique genres. The ones that stand out tend to serve as (often inaccurate) labels, the way “bodice-ripper” becomes shorthand for any romance novel with a glossy cover.

    Literary fiction is a genre whose proponents insist sits at the definitional center of the universe, when it is just a small moon orbiting the planet of Narrative with all the others.

  11. Thanks for the link to the Philip Pullman speech. It is a great encapsulation of what I have considered as the long developing consequences of self-deluded narcissism in literature. The literary world simply needs more humility. As literary authors over the past century have become more self-absorbed, they have abandoned their real reason for existence, which is the connecting power of story or narrative.

    That connecting or communicating power of stories is I believe what makes stories so enduring. It is why watching a two hour movie about other people’s lives is entertainment. It is why genres are flourishing and why adults flock to YA. Rather than looking down their noses at the unsophisticated masses, writers would do well to give greater respect for the intelligence of the people. Sure, many popular successes are popular because they appeal to base vulgarity, but most people know something good when they see it, too. So great stories are often big successes, sooner or later.

    Thus, I for one respect the intelligent humility of those Mormon authors who have written successful YA books. Thanks for the post, Kent.

  12. I take that “challenging” aspect of adult novels with a grain of salt. One of the reasons I love he adult classics and care less about what is considered adult today is because they are NOT challenging. They all read the same to me even more so than young adult books. It goes something like this; a murder happens (in some), then the man or woman have an affair in graphic detail, with the ending continuing the affair with a messy breakup/divorce or the main character decides to move on to the next sexual experience. Udall’s book, for instance, is nothing more than the story about a polygamist who decides to have an affair. Reading that storyline for the upteenth time begs the question of exactly what new challenges the adult novels are supposed to have for the reader? They end up romance novels without the romance.

    Many YA novels are imaginative and full of what I would call more challenging themes. Think of all that the Harry Potter and even Twilight books discuss and compare it to the last critically acclaimed adult novel. What did you come away thinking about and remembering? Chances are you have a lot more to talk about with the YA than the adult readings.

  13. First of all, Jettboy, I’d have to say that The Lonely Polygamist is much more than the story of a man who decides to have an affair. Have you read it? I try to avoid passing judgment on novels I have not read if I can (hence my caveat that I’ve only read the first of the Twilight novels in my first comment in this thread).

    And although I think that some contemporary novels for adults sacrifice story for the sake of turning literary cartwheels, I’ve enjoyed many well-written adult novels for precisely the same reason I enjoy well-written YA novels: story. Here are some of the best novels I’ve read in the last year or so, all written for adults, and all examples of compelling, well-written narrative:

    The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
    Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
    The Help by Katherine Stockett
    Room by Emma Donoghue
    The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaeffer
    The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
    The Passage by Justin Cronin
    The Likeness by Tana French

    It’s true that some of these titles might contain too much sex or violence or language for some Mormon readers. I get that, and respect it. (Although The Thirteenth Tale, The Guernsy Society, The Help, and even Room are examples of novels that I think most of my Mormon friends would/could read without being unduly jarred.) But I don’t get or respect the idea that YA novels know how to tell a story and well-written novels for adults don’t. Again, are there some bad apples? Yes. (Oh, Lorrie Moore, you’re such an amazing short story writer, but your novel went absolutely nowhere and I had to put it down.) But just as its unfair to paint genre writers with a broad brush (“sure, the stories are good, but the prose isn’t!”), it’s unfair to label writers of contemporary adult literature with the flip side of that insult (“sure, the prose is pretty, but they can’t tell stories.”)

    Good novelists, regardless of genre, usually do two things well: write sentences and tell stories. Udall and Franzen do this, and so do YA novelists like Lois Lowry and Marcus Zusak (I just finished The Book Thief, and man, that’s one heckofa novel!)

    One last thing, Jettboy. All of the adult novels I mentioned above and many many more contained a number of themes I found much more challenging than what I encountered in Twilight. The first one in Meyer’s series. The one I actually read. I can get behind the notion that Meyer knows how to tell a story, but please, let’s not start comparing the thematic heft of a teen romance novel about a passive, clumsy teenage girl and her adventures with vampires and werewolves with the powerful, thought provoking, and (yes) adult themes one would find in a novel like Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead or even Udall’s Lonely Polygamist. They’re not even in the same ballpark. And I’m pretty sure Meyer herself would agree.

  14. Moriah,

    The cynic in me thinks that one difference between YA books and “adult” fiction is that YA books are written to be read, and too much of adult fiction seems to be written to be admired. I guess that is part of what Pullman is saying. It is ironic to me that his Dark Matter trilogy started in the “to be read” category and ended in the “to be admired.” I got bored when he stopped telling his story, and started making his point. I loved “The Golden Compass”, and only forced myself to finish “The Amber Spyglass” because I wanted to see how the story would end.

  15. @CS Eric, I might agree with you were we to separate out “literary” from “genre” and talk about the stereotype of literary being plotless and turgid navel-gazing. Adult genre is written to be read, but gets much less respect than the YA “super-genre” (TM)Eugene. Even if we forget Romance (that most despised of genres), you’ve got the spy thriller, the mystery (and all permutations thereof), scifi/fantasy (of the adult persuasion), and the family saga, all of which are about The Story. Sometimes the story is more plot and sometimes more characterization. (Dissection of a spy thriller by my friend, part 1 and 2.)

    I guess what I’m asking is what does YA/MG give adults that adult GENRE fiction isn’t? Or, what about YA/MG is more socially acceptable than reading adult genre?

    I don’t know if you read Twilight, Jettboy, but it was all about sex, because the vampire myth itself is all about sex. I find it deeply disturbing that legions of mothers of teenagers (women MY age) (members and nonmembers alike) are fantasizing about being swept away by sparkly vampires. And never mind the teenage angst (did it once, don’t wanna relive it). (And I LIKED Twilight. All it was missing was decent editing and a bucket of popcorn.)

    And also… What Angela said.

  16. I have contacted Ally about an interview, but unlike with Stephenie Meyer I didn’t get in before all the buzz so we’ll see…

  17. I read all of the Twilight books other than the second one. This isn’t to say it isn’t about sex, but it is much more about other things like friendship, family, choices, middle-class values vs the well off, tradition vs modernity, and more. Glad you like adult novels, but I cannot and will not read them as I find them offensive or absolutely boring.

    Sorry Angela, but I don’t understand how others can’t understand why even non-Mormons find adult novels unappealing. They don’t resonate with how most real people live their lives. They are filled with East Coast and West Coast attitudes and values that the majority of Americans don’t agree with or care about. If not that, then they are filled with pretentious writing that only English Students and Teachers find enjoyable.

  18. .

    Lund’s Alliance was a fave when I was in high school. Then he had to go and start writing pioneer books. Sellout.

  19. Yeah, to restate what CS Eric said in slightly different words, some books are written as a gift for the reader, and other books are written to be important in and of themselves.

    Think of a book like a date. Some dates spend the whole time trying to come across as cool or suave or smart or something and you come away thinking about, at best, how neat they are, and, at worst, how self-absorbed they are. Other dates are out to show you a good time, and even if they do it clumsily, the fact that they were looking out for YOU makes them appealing. And when they pull it off grandly, you have the time of your life.

    But, I’m admittedly showing my bias here.

    My wife and I have diametrically opposed views on what holds our interests. We both say, “But that could never happen in real life!” For her, that’s a negative, because it means she can’t relate to it. (Why does it matter to me?) For me, that’s a positive, because it means I’m getting an experience I couldn’t get anywhere else. (If it could happen in the real world, why would I want to read about it, when I could just go do it?)

    Generally, people’s answers to questions like why do people like X are usually usefull insofar as they are in that category. The minute they start assigning motivations to the readers of other kinds of fiction, they just start showing their own bias.

    The minute somebody starts saying, “People only read that kind of fiction because they’re stupid / conceited / simple-minded / uneducated / wanting to seem educated,” they’re dismissing the diversity of interests among intelligent, clever people that makes this world great.

    Even worse is when someone can’t read someone’s opinion about their favorite kind of literature without taking it as a personal comment about themselves. My wife finds science fiction overly complicated, boring, nerdy, and completley unrelatable. It would be a mistake for me, though, to read that and think it means she was associating me with all the negative things she perceives about science fiction, any more than I wouldn’t want to associate with her just because I don’t read Romance books.

    So if a question is genuinely being asked about why people like X, you really don’t need to be suspicious of the answers people give you when they tell you why they like it. The variety of answers will be as diverse as the number of readers.

    The only way you’d run into problems and feel the need to try to correct anybody or argue about it is if you could only stand to have an answer that supported a pre-established hierarchy of some “actual” ranking of which books are better or worse. Because no ranking like that would ever stand up to a conversation with a single real independently minded person.

    When people tell you why they like X, they’re being honest. When they tell you why they don’t like Y, they’re being honest, too. The minute they start telling you why SOMEONE ELSE does or doesn’t like X or Y, their answers often tell you more about the person talking than they tell you about the group they’re pointing at.

  20. .

    Ah. And now I’ve read the other comments.

    A few of my own.

    A. Shannon Hales’s books for YAs are much better by any reasonable measure than her books for adults.

    B. The Lonely Polygamist was a great book and I hope more people will read it rather than dismiss it. (I didn’t dismiss Twilight before reading it, tempting though it was.)

    C. Of the books I’ve found most thought-provoking/enjoyable over the past year (novels only) I count eight for adults and two for YAs (including Whitney-award winning I Am Not a Serial Killer).

    D. It’s funny how, often, in conversations like this one of two ideas come up: How adult lit can’t compare to YA lit -or- How YA lit is getting as decadent and terrible as adult lit. In both cases, the assumption is that adult lit is bad. I’m starting to wonder if anyone reads modern adult lit. Or if it just looks too hard and we shy away.

    E. Whenever we use words like all and never and none and always, and do not use specific examples, we clearly have no idea what we’re talking about.

  21. I loved Gerald Lund’s The Alliance in the mid-1980s. It’s a dystopian novel where free agency or freedom of choice is the theme.

  22. “Anyone know of other Mormon dystopian works?”

    ~begin shameless plug~

    My upcoming novel “The Third” is dystopian. Comes out in April 2011.

    ~end shameless plug~

  23. I followed his link. Cedar Fort’s the publisher. Looks very interesting. The question for me is whether it’ll be in ebook.

  24. @Kent Cedar Fort’s publishing it. Don’t know what imprint they’re going to use for it.

    @Mojo Yes, it will be in ebook format (Kindle, Nook, etc.)

  25. YA literature, in my view, is better suited for addressing certain kinds of themes and experiences than adult literature. (And vice versa, of course.) There are certain types of issues related to personal identity that are closely tied to adolescence, because adolescence is the time of life that’s more or less set aside for those issues. If you want to read literature that’s about those issues, then most of what’s out there to read will be YA fiction, or at least fiction with a YA protagonist.

    Part of the problem here is that there’s a frequent assumption that a continued interest in the issues of adolescence is a sign of immaturity. To which I would say: well, yes and no. It’s worth keeping in mind that from an eternal perspective, all of us on earth are adolescents, no matter what our age. It’s fitting therefore that we should be dealing (many of us simultaneously) with inherently “adolescent” questions and issues, at the same time that we’re also trying to deal with “adult” issues.

    My point here being that when I say some of us are more engaged with the kinds of themes and experiences that typify YA literature, I don’t mean that as a pejorative on either side. Adulthood does not equal corruption and boringness. Neither does adolescence equal immaturity. But I do think it’s true that depending on the critical issues in our own lives, certain issues may be more important for us to explore via literature than other kinds of issues.

    There’s also a sense in which adolescent characters represent a useful distillation of experience — from some perspectives, and for some purposes. Art, in my view, is inherently a simplification of reality. In a similar sense, I would argue that the emotions, thoughts, and feelings of adulthood are often present, but in a simpler and more purified form, in adolescents. Thus adolescent characters can be a highly effective vehicle for addressing powerful emotions and character patterns — precisely because they aren’t adult.

  26. Abel Keough is one of the authors who parted with Valor over the summer because of their problems. His book will be published by Cedar Fort. Danyelle Ferguson and Lynn Parsons’s non-fiction book will also be published by Cedar Fort. Tristi Pinkston’s next book will be published by Walnut Springs. Gordon Ryan and Daron Fraley self-published their books.

  27. There is one other nationally-published clearly dystopian novel by an LDS author this year. The Limit, by Kristen Landon (Simon and Schuster). Thriller for middle grade readers. The government has limits on how much each family can spend. A mother accidently overspends, is taken away by the government to a workhouse.

    When I think of dystopian novels, I think of those that are about a society far removed from our own, like Brave New World or The Hunger Games. But I guess you could make an argument that novels that posit a more repressive future, not too removed from our own, could also be included. And of course that links up to the last days type novels.

    Not counting the last days novels (where there is a clear end-of-times trope) there are a couple of these “bad times ahead” type novels, sometimes with a right-wing paranoia flavor. One that I thought was okay was Stephanie Black’s The Believer, about an oppressive America where religion is outlawed. It was her first book, in 2005, and although I did not think much of her writing style, she created a good plot. I have not read any of her books since then, but she has won two Whitney awards, and is one of the more praised home literature genre writers currently working.

    If means a lot for these kind of books if the world they create is believable. I believed the world Card created in The Folk of the Fringe. On the other hand, I could not believe at all the world he created in Empire, where the political paranoia just came off as annoying.

  28. “People only read that kind of fiction because they’re stupid / conceited / simple-minded / uneducated / wanting to seem educated,” they’re dismissing the diversity of interests among intelligent, clever people that makes this world great.”

    Thank you for this.

    We’re going to read The Limit in our book group — the author’s mother is in my group, so it’s likely we will have the author there as well. I’m looking forward to that.

  29. Wow, I can’t believe how many comments this thread has drawn. Either I unwittingly touched a nerve in discussing dystopian novels or there is some pent-up need to comment that we haven’t satisfied very well here — of course the discussion of Adult v. YA/Academic v. Popular literature is probably part of this too.

    Still, this was unexpected for a post that was just meant to pass on the PW article and news that Condie’s book was poised to be a big success!

  30. I don’t know about that Jonathan. In terms of both comments and post views celebrity (and in this case we’re usually talking about national success by Mormon artists), sex, controversy and scandal are usually at or near the top. AMV is no more immune from this than any other media outlet. We don’t deliberately troll for that kind of blockbuster success because I think it’s clear that an active small community is better than lots of casual traffic, but sometimes it occurs naturally.

  31. All I can say is, a part of me is Jealous Jealous Jealous! She’s been writing for a while (so have I), she got an idea and enjoyed writing her story, and it has taken off! I want to be in those shoes!

    But it’s also awesome to have another humorous, light read, written by and LDS person, gaining popularity. We don’t have enough of that!

  32. Does it strike anyone else that so much LDS fiction is about going against the stringent rules of a repressive society? I think those stories are valuable, don’t get me wrong, but what about stories where obedience is a good thing? I think we are all afraid of being viewed as brain-washed and naive, which is not good, but I think sticking up for intelligent obedience is a good thing too.

    And Sarah Dunster, I agree…the green monster is rising up inside me 🙂

    Sarah Allen
    (mycreative writing blog)

  33. “Does it strike anyone else that so much LDS fiction is about going against the stringent rules of a repressive society?”

    Maybe because we are writing about what we know! I like to pretend that Meyer is actually rebelling from within against the social strictures and bourgeoisie status seeking promulgated by Mormon society.

    And I roll my eyes; nothing is sillier than Mormons in the U.S. of A. complaining about being “repressed” (cue Monty Python). Yes, indeed, why the need to invent alternate realities when there’s North Korea?

    Teenagers, though, discover it again every generation as if for the first time.

  34. The Giver by Lois Lowry won the 1994 Newbery Medal and has sold more than 5.3 million copies. Based on the above description, Matched sounds very similar, and can certainly be placed in the same sub-genre.

    Like a good romance or action-adventure, the demand will always be there. Stories like this allow us to articulate our ideals in ways the “real” world doesn’t always permit, or that we know in our heart of hearts we’re not capable of.

    My own glib cynicism aside, I believe there is real value in identifying with even fictional characters who are. Perhaps one attraction of YA to adults is that we can briefly abandon our jaded older selves who know better.

  35. Does it strike anyone else that so much LDS fiction is about going against the stringent rules of a repressive society?

    What titles are you thinking of that fit this description? (I can think of a half dozen or so, but they’re a small minority of the LDS fiction titles I’m familiar with.)

  36. I think it’s a misnomer to think that YA is “dumbed down” literature. I like YA in certain aspects, as long as it’s not all about a whiney teenager angry at her parents for everything under the sun.

    I really enjoyed Matched and my 13 year old just read it and loved. Matched has been compared to The Giver in many reviews since the writing style and tone are similar. Also, publicists like to compare “debut” books to well-known bestsellers so that the reader can relate and hopefully buy the book. Ally’s book is considered “debut” since it’s her first national release.

    Mormon authors LOVE to write YA precisely because they don’t have to put all the junk in it be competitive with the other authors. Although, as we know, there are plenty of YA novels that would make an adult blush.

    Also, to clarify on Dashner’s books, he has 3 different series. Series 1 is the Jimmy Fincher series (middle grade) published by Cedar Fort several years ago. Series 2 is The 13th Reality series (middle grade/bordering YA, science fiction/fantasy) published by Shadow Mountain in hardcover and Simon & Schuster in softcover. Series 3 is The Maze Runner trilogy published by Random House (now a NY Times Bestseller). The Maze Runner is YA dystopian.

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