As you know, contemporary is my favorite genre. As much as I love fantasy and dystopian and sci-fi, I always return to contemporary. But I’m also a pretty picky contemporary reader, and I won’t just read any contemporary novel that comes my way. So what is it that makes a good contemporary novel?
1. Character Driven Story
I just think that a contemporary novel is a tool of introspection, to see how you act and how others act and validate yourself and your existence. I always take so much from every contemporary novel I read, and look for myself in other characters. That’s why the book needs to be character driven for me to like it. If it is too much plot and not enough learning about the character and their ins and out, I won’t learn anything about myself.
2. A Focus on Relationships
Not only romantic relationships, but family relationships or friendships as well. I need a strong relationship in one of those three categories, or a focus on fixing and mending them. As a teen, I’m mostly preoccupied with my relationships. After all, it is the formative years of your life, and the people around you are a big part of who you are.
3. Good Writing
This is a must for all good novels, but especially important in a contemporary novel, where the pace is usually slower and there’s less plot holding up the book. If the characters aren’t written well, and the dialogue sounds forced or cheesy, then the whole book is going to suffer.
4. Natural Diversity
Again, important for all genres! But it is important in contemporary novels because this is how the world actually is, and if we want to demonstrate how the world is at this particular moment, we need diversity in our books. Also, not only white teenagers experience moments of self-doubt or fall in love or fight with their friends, so why are we only writing about them?!
5. Relatable Characters
Similar to the character driven point, a contemporary novel needs relatable characters. These genres are usually all about the characters and how they deal with life and they are supposed to be a tool of introspection, so the characters must be relatable. This means they shouldn’t be perfect! Real people have flaws, and when characters show those flaws, that makes the reader relate more.
6. Fresh and Witty Narration
Have you ever been inside a teen’s head? It’s full of snarky comments and random jumbled thoughts. That’s why the narration needs to be witty as well. I don’t need to have tears pouring down my face from laughter while I’m reading, but a little chuckle every now and then shouldn’t be too hard.
7. ALL THE FEELS
Maybe this is just me, but a contemporary novel needs to make me feel. Everything. I should smile, laugh, and cringe, but I should also cry. Or at least tear up. Because it’s so easy to make me cry, if a book doesn’t, it is automatically a fail in my book. But in all reality, teenagers experience a whirlwind of emotions. I should feel the same while reading the book. It means it is raw and vulnerable and that I’m actually connecting.
8. A Cute Cover
Yeah I know, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”. But you’re lying if you’ve never picked up a book or put it down after glancing at the cover. So a good contemporary book for me needs a cute and fluffy (or beautiful, depending on the type of contemporary book) cover. Maybe some watercolor, or script, or bright colors, or doodles and illustrations. Cover game is really strong right now in all book genres, so for a contemporary novel to compete, it needs a good cover. After all, it sets the stage and the mood for the rest of the book that follows.
9. A Cute Pet
Okay, so this isn’t actually necessary for a good contemporary novel, but it really elevates one. Like, I just want to see a cute dog in my books!!! Just something pure and uncomplicated like that please.
10. It Should Say Something
Obviously all books say something (they are made up of words????) but I mean it should comment on something happening in the world. It doesn’t need to be political. Sometimes it’s nice to read books that aren’t making political statements. But it can comment on how social media affects teenagers’ identity, or how sports teams put too much pressure on their players, or how senior year of high school is really a mix of happy and sad moments. It should just say something about how life is right now.
What makes a good contemporary novel for you? Do you like plot driven or character driven? Do you agree with my criteria?