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Take a pretty but confused teenager. Add a paranormal twist and some forbidden romance. Throw in a few stunning gowns, sparkly jewels and baddies in black trench coats. Stir the ingredients with a deft hand and sprinkling of melodrama. Chances are high that the final concoction will be a paperback winner.
For 'paranormal romances' continue to be favourites with young adult readers worldwide, and the fad that began with the Twilight series a few years ago has shown few signs of subsiding. So blood-sucking vampires, dead-eyedzombies and migraine-inducing werewolves continue to park comfortably on bestseller lists. While writers gleefully make the most of the winning formula.
Switched - a fast-paced but simplistic novel that was written in all of a week - falls neatly into this genre. But it's a trendsetter in its own right as well. For Switched has been written by 27-year-old Amanda Hocking, who is today seen as the face of the digital publishing revolution.
Hocking worked in a group home in Austin, Minnesota, and in her spare time wrote romances featuring trolls, fairies, zombies and sirens - all of which were routinely rejected by supercilious publishers. In April 2010, desperate to raise some money so that she could visit a Muppets exhibition in Chicago, she made her books available to Kindle readers on Amazon and other e-book sites. Somebody, she hoped, would pay to read them.
Quite a few somebodies did. The books began to be featured in various blogs. Hocking, herself, spent hours daily blogging and responding to new fans on Facebook and Twitter. Word spread fast and barely 20 months after her gauche, techno-glitched entry into the world of online publishing, Hocking had sold over 1. 5 million copies of her books and made over $2. 5 million.
Not surprisingly, the very publishers who sent Hocking standard-format rejection letters by the dozens, are now queuing up to work with her. Which is how the Trylle Trilogy - Hocking's favourite series so far - is enjoying a conventional rebirth.
Switched, the first book in this trilogy, is the story of 17-year-old Wendy Everly. Like so many other teenagers, she feels like a misfit and is both physically and mentally scarred by the fact that her mother tried to kill her with a cake-smeared butcher's knife on her sixth birthday. "Everywhere I went, kids never seemed to like me, " she mopes in typical teenage fashion. "Even before I said or did anything. I felt I had something wrong with me and everyone knew it. I tried getting along with the other kids, but I'd only take getting pushed for so long before I pushed back. Principals and deans were quick to expel me, probably sensing the same things the kids did. "
At the beginning of the book, Wendy is a new girl in a new school - a bit like Bella Swan in Twilight - and she is feeling more lost and perplexed that ever. She has gradually realised that she is able to compel her teachers, classmates and brother Matt to do certain things against their will. Moreover, she is intrigued by Finn Holmes, a silent but handsome boy in her class who keeps staring at her.
Then one night, Finn arrives at her window. He has the answers to her unvoiced questions: Wendy is a misfit quite simply because she is a changeling. She is actually a troll who was swapped with a human child when she was an infant. Her true home is a secret township called Forening amidst the bluffs of Minnesota. "You've never really fit in anywhere, " he tells Wendy, who is unwilling to leave her beloved brother and loving aunt. "You have a quick temper. You are very intelligent and a picky eater. You hate shoes. Your hair, while lovely, is hard to control. You have dark brown eyes, dark brown hair. "
Finn is a tracker, and it's his job to take Wendy back to her true home and mother for the Trylle community is fast dwindling and losing its magical powers. And Wendy's amazing skill at 'persuasion' is necessary if the community is to survive in an increasingly unfriendly world.
Finally, Wendy makes the journey to Forening, but she finds that she's as out of place among the Trylle as she was in high school. The only person she can trust is Finn, but she will never be permitted a relationship with a lowly tracker and once again Wendy is confronted with tough decisions.
The stage is set for the next two installments of the Trylle trilogy and doubtless Hocking's young adult readers will be waiting with bated breath. For while Hocking cares little about language and complexities, she clearly understands the teenage mind. And although Switched adheres to a tired formula, it does so with a certain degree of panache.
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