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Realistic Fiction is a tough sell in the world of young adult (YA) literature at the moment. Shelf space at bookstores is always at a premium, but lately the bulk is reserved for novels that feature vampires, faeries, zombies, and, most recently, angels (evil, heaven-sent, you name it). Add a star-crossed romance between such mythical creatures and an ordinary human girl. Or boy. Usually a girl. Then stir. And voila! Instant bestseller. Or so the publisher hopes.
The Twilight phenomenon—the appeal of the now infamous Edward (the vampire), Jacob (the werewolf), Bella (the ordinary high school girl), and the love triangle they form over four thick, juicy novels by Mormon mom Stephenie Meyer—has landed the YA industry in this predicament. With so many authors and editors focused on finding the next big paranormal hit, books that fall under the heading Realistic Fiction—stories without mythical creatures, newfound magical abilities, and love everyone is willing to die for—are not only neglected but sometimes squeezed from shelves altogether.
Yet many of the best YA novels happen to fall into this marginalized territory. I've spent months talking up a wonderful debut, Amy & Roger's Epic Detour, by Morgan Matson, because I fear it will get lost amid the hundreds of paranormal ones. But add in another complicating factor: Realistic Fiction for boys is an even tougher sell. Most YA novels claim girls as their audience because it is widely known that girls read and girls buy books. Getting boys to read, especially teen boys, is a problem under near constant discussion among editors, authors, children's librarians, and parents, too.
This is the challenge facing seasoned author Peter Abrahams with Bullet Point, a mystery of sorts. Not only does it lack vampires—it's a boy book to its core. Protagonist Wyatt Lathem is a guy's guy. He's quiet. Reserved. Only speaks if he has something to say and even then not much. Education is not his priority, though ...