“YA”

Today’s title is not a word, but the established literary shorthand for two words: “Young adult.” The American Library Association (or so Wikipedia tells me) defines a young adult as “someone between the ages of twelve and eighteen”, but there are no real hard and fast numbers for this genre – ten to twenty, thirteen and up… with kids trying to grow up faster and some adults trying to grow up slower, it’s difficult to set anything in stone.

            In my early writing-with-an-eye-toward-eventual-publication days, I proclaimed myself an author of “juvenile fiction”, sort of subtitling that statement with the explanation, “Books about kids just being kids, without a lot of adult interference.” In this, my style was similar to my favorite work by L.M. Montgomery, “The Story Girl”. Montgomery is of course best known for her “Anne of Green Gables” series, but while I enjoyed the first couple of tales well enough, I disliked the drastic aging that inexorably took place over the books’ progression; all my adolescent chums from Avonlea were getting old and dull without me! “The Story Girl”, however – along with its sequel, “The Golden Road” – spanned no more than a couple years, if I rightly recollect, and the hijinks of the young protagonists were sidesplitting. Originally, that was what I wanted my own writing to be.

            Then I gradually became aware that my stories were becoming moodier. My characters had traded a measure of lighthearted, semi-plotless nonsense for romantic tangles, chronic angst, and other such melodrama (mostly courtesy of Jason “My Life is Blackest Hades” Nickels, I note). It seemed that, against my will, my sensibilities were trying to feel their way toward maturity, and “kids just being kids” wasn’t doing it for me anymore. So I amended my professional self-descriptive, this author now sailing under the “teen and young-adult fiction” flag.

            And a merry-mixed-with-moody voyage it was. …Until this very September. A few months prior to that, I had been involved for several weeks in an online community for teen writers (that’s teens who are writers, writers for teens, and the predictable overlap) called Inkpop. While I believe the opportunity to share a bit of my work and exchange critique with the other members on the site was beneficial, I ultimately decided that I needed to pull out and spend more time with my family. (It actually had nothing to do with my family. What I really needed was less writing about writing, and more writing!) One of those benefits was the planting of a seed that finally sprouted, as I said, in September, and that sprout was a ringing “a-HA!” of a realization: I don’t write for teens.

            Teenhood, as my guru Tirzah has remarked, is less a matter of age and more a matter of attitude. (Stop nodding like that, adults.) There are teenagers walking around in five-year-old bodies (my baby sister, anyone?), and seventeen-year-olds with an adult’s brain and a child’s heart (that was Tirzah). Teenagers want edgy, gritty, coming-of-age dystopia, with in-your-face heroines and heroes who take down The Man by making their voices heard. They love to hate cheerleaders, and are the cheerleaders for the games of “who’s hunting whom?” played with the supernatural bad boy, and want their most awful day ever in high school heck to hurry up and end so they can go home and read about somebody else’s most awful day ever in high school heck.

            That’s not me. I’ve read my share of that, and liked some of it; I’ve written a little of that, and have gotten some really positive feedback about it. But it’s not my primary style. I’m not a sensationalist. I prefer story over shock value, feelings over flash, characters over concepts designed to blow your mind – all liberally laced with fantasy, of course. What I write is for me, and for people like me – be they young ones with a bit of maturity, or adults whose hearts haven’t left their youth behind. As far as I’m concerned, those are the “young adults”, and I’m their author. So hoist the Jolly YA and bring me that horizon.

8 thoughts on ““YA”

  1. Good post. Although I think the mainstream success of books like Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Eragon indicates that the distinction between “books for younger audiences” and “books for adults” isn’t always clear-cut, or at least that audiences outside the demographic can still enjoy them. I know I enjoyed reading books well above my age level when I was twelve and thirteen, authors like Robert Jordan and David Eddings. I also enjoy reading YA books like Sabriel even now that I’m an adult. Of course, these books (and I myself) might be exceptions. I’m a bit of an oddball reader.

    • Oh, we’re all oddballs, here; that’s what makes it a wonderland.
      You bring up a noteworthy point, though. Age is but a number, perhaps especially when it comes to literature. A good read is a good read, regardless of its primary intended audience. One ought not to be above reading down, or below reading up; that’s a sure-fire way to miss out on a book one might otherwise have loved.
      Thanks for the two cents! I’m feelin’ rich. (:

  2. Great post. Bring on the joyful books and characters. Even very serious stories can be joyful to read because of an open-hearted character – maybe that’s especially true for juvenile fiction. (Elijah of Buxton comes to mind, among many other lovable kid narrators – they are a great read at any age.)

    • Thank you. (: And very true: Goodness knows I’ll put up with all sorts of grim tales if means more time spent with characters I love. (“Sword of Truth” for the sake of Richard, anyone?)

  3. How about hopeful YA? I think we’re on the same page when it comes to that.

    How about old argument: “Dark stories are what teens want.” But, is that a catch-22? Are we perpetuating the problem by giving them dark literature?

    Happy endings, yes. Happy ideas? Perhaps something of a dying breed.

    Maybe I’m getting the wrong vibe.

    But I like what I’m hearing. 🙂

    • Happy ideas do seem few and far between, anymore — unless we’ve gone into the “Humor” section. Still, there are smiles and laughs to be found in between the drama, too, and/or dark matters treated with a light touch. (“A Series of Unfortunate Events” comes to mind as an example of the latter.) I prefer my medicine eased down with a spoonful of sugar, and plenty of highs to balance my lows. Let’s not save *all* the happiness until the end, please!

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