It seems we are always trying to pigeonhole books – either into a specific genre or a specific age range. I don’t like labelling books but even on my website I had to find a way to categorise books. I decided to use a method that would enable me to attach as many descriptive categories as possible to a book and to define those categories by what a reader wanted their mind to do.
Yet, even if I placed Hunger Games series under three headings:
- a book to make you go on an adventure
- a book to make you travel to the future
- a book to make you find romance,
I would agree that the series will primarily be classed as a dystopian book. Most books are like that, they may touch on different genres but they have a main, overriding genre which tends to define them.
However, some books that are different. There are book where it is hard to pick an overriding label or even to find other books like them. I love books like that – they are unexpected and unusual and they often make me think and think. What is interesting is that different readers will have different takes on this. I’ve listed three books below that I don’t think can be pigeonholed easily. But do you agree with my thinking or are there other books you would nominate?
We Were Liars by E Lockhart – yes it’s a family/relationship drama but it is so unusual that you can’t just place it in the “issue” genre. There is much more to the book. The main character is a completely unreliable narrator and at times it’s hard to know what is real and what isn’t. In the end I was caught quite unawares. And yet, above all, what appealed to me was the style of writing, the way it was written, the pictures it created in my mind.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. Broadly, it is a book about teenagers finding and being comfortable with their identity. However this is the story of two characters, both facing up to emotional issues which are similar and yet different because one is gay and one isn’t. Placing both stories side by side and intertwining them makes it a fascinating and unusual read. This is emphasised by the very different styles of writing. The second Will Grayson doesn’t use any capitals when writing and the observant reader has to ask why this is (read the conversation between John Green and David Levithan at the back of the book). So you could file it under romance or diversity but that wouldn’t do the book justice – it would make it two-dimensional and this book is much more than that.
Spud by John van de Ruit – a book about life at school? a book to make you laugh? a book about life in South Africa as the apartheid regime crumbles? a book about friendship and growing up? The book was all of these, and more. Most of all it was excellent: I laughed, I cried a bit, I thought a lot about life in South Africa, I enjoyed all the contemporary references, I empathised with some of the horrors of school life and boarding school rules. Ultimately it appealed to many different parts of my mind and I would find it difficult to just file it under just one genre.
I have recently written a lot about Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld. It is another book that can’t be pigeonholed – partly because it is two stories woven together but also because the weaving has been done so well that neither story trumps the other. It is a special book.