When I sat down to write the trilogy that turned out to be the Less Than Nothing novels, I had no idea what genre they were going to be. I sort of thought maybe NA, because they’d have some heat to them, there’s a central romantic theme to the story, and they deal with subjects that are more serious than the YA books I’ve read. What ensued has me scratching my head, though, and now I’m not so sure.
The books cover the trials and tribulations of Sage and Derek, two homeless teen street musicians in San Francisco who make a life-altering decision to hitch cross-country and enter a talent contest in New York.
Seems straightforward enough. That’s a road book. Like Huckleberry Finn, or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, or any number of other road tomes, only with a teen romance as the central driver. Only that’s not how it turned out. The characters took over, and apparently their story wasn’t a road story at all, but rather a love story combined with a coming-of-age saga.
There aren’t a lot of books that feature homeless main characters, much less homeless teens grappling with the demons of their pasts. These are characters with flaws, with depth, with problems and hopes and needs. Who aren’t adults yet, but also aren’t kids – caught in that neverland between responsibility and adolescence, but dealing with the harsh reality of survival on the streets.
Less Than Nothing is a tip of the hat to the Janis Joplin rendition of Me & Bobby McGee. It came on the radio while I was driving, and as I listened to Janis belt it out, I thought, “wow, wouldn’t that be an awesome story – road trip, two young spirits in love, making mistakes, fighting to succeed…” And that’s how the book idea was born.
But how to classify it? It deals with more complex and nuanced subject matter than the usual YA outing, so it’s not really Young Adult. And it’s got some steamy scenes, so it’s spicier than that genre. Which means it’s probably New Adult, but then we have the problem that the protagonists are both teenagers…in what becomes an adventure/romance. And there are no shirtless biker alpha billionaires, so not typical NA fare. So is it contemporary romance? Not really. Is it NA? Not really. Is it YA? Not really.
Whatever it is, it’s getting rave reviews, so maybe the genre isn’t as important as the story. A young girl developing into a self-directed being, on the threshold of adulthood but still possessing adolescent impulses and doubts, which aren’t always logical and can be in conflict with each other while co-existing simultaneously.
Whatever the genre, I’m thrilled at how it turned out. I think it’s a truly original take on the familiar story of boy meets girl. Because it’s about that. And not that. It’s about love, and dreams, and desperation, and possibility, and the hope for redemption, the fear of loss, of betrayal, of being let down and hurt by those who are supposed to protect you, and about overcoming your past to build a brighter future.
Anyhow, if you like stories that are off the beaten path, are quirky, and deal with teens growing into their own skin and discovering what they’re made of, this might be a good choice. If you enjoy love stories in a big, sweeping, complicated sense, with imperfect characters who sometimes behave in frustrating ways – just like real people do – then give this a try.
And if you figure out what the books are, let me know. Because when asked, I’m still uncertain what to say, other than, “You’ve kinda just got to read them to understand.”
Sage’s life as a teenage runaway in San Francisco is simple: Snatch a few hours of sleep on park benches and bus stops; dodge perverts, predators, and cops; and make enough as a street musician to eat. But her world flips upside down when she meets Derek – hot, tattooed, and charming, a singer from Seattle whose looks and talent take her breath away.
What begins as a reluctant partnership quickly develops into a cross-country race against time – and awakens a hunger in Sage that’s unfamiliar and exciting.
As they travel from coast to coast, Sage and Derek pursue their dream, only to discover that they can never run far enough to escape the demons from their pasts.
Less Than Nothing is the breakout debut NA novel from USA Today bestseller R.E. Blake that critics are buzzing about and readers can’t put down.
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About R.E. Blake:
R.E. Blake is the pseudonym of the USA Today bestselling author of over 30 novels, featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Times, and the Chicago Tribune.