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Today, I’d like to talk about what YA means to me.
I have always been drawn to middle grade and YA lit, and luckily I was born at a time when it’s always been around for me. I devoured anything by Madeline L’Engle, Tamora Pierce, Philip Pullman, Bruce Coville, Christopher Pike, and of course, J.K. Rowling. Many of my favorite books by these authors came out when I was in jr. high and high school. I liked “adult” literature as well (George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut come to mind), but YA and MG held a special place for me. I couldn’t stop reading them, even after I’d read them several times, or I was “too old” for a certain novel.
My MG and YA reading choices greatly shaped my current literary preferences, as well as what I choose to write. As a preteen and teenager, I loved fantasy, adventure, sci-fi, mystery, slow-boil love stories as a subplot… I still love these stories. And now I write them, as well.
This is what draws me to YA – these are stories that, if done right, stick with a person for a lifetime and may have a hand in shaping a teensy bit of their personality. I won’t go so far as to say that we ultimately emulate our favorite characters from literature and television, but if a character strikes a chord in us, there’s a reason. They have a personality trait we admire, they always have a snappy comeback, they’re brave in ways we strive to be, etc.
Adolescence is a relatively new phenomenon in the grand scale of humanity, and as our lives get longer, so too do the stages of our lives. Most of us are no longer forced into adulthood at 14 by necessity. We have time to explore, to learn, to grow. This can make for stronger, more self-aware adults. YA literature reflects this. It is full of coming of age, journeys, and finding our inner strength. When YA characters finally reach that precipice just before “growing up,” many have achieved some clarity to prepare them for the next stage of their lives.
Here is the important part: young adult literature is not about writing down to children because they can’t handle “adult stuff,” and they’re too silly to care about “real” literature. Teenagers, much as we may try to deny it, are not children. They have moved past childhood into the murky gray area before adulthood. It’s a pivotal point in our modern social development when we don’t quite know everything, but we’re open to exploration and becoming who we’re going to be as adults.
I love this. I love this time when experiences are still new and powerful, but we’re wilier than our naïve childhood counterparts. This is what I write for – this developmental stage that has all the potential in the world to pave the way for the rest of our lives. It’s hard, it’s painful, it’s wonderful, it’s magic. I want to capture that in fiction and speak to it.
When I write, I try to view teenagers less as kids and more as equals. I don’t want to treat them as though their viewpoints don’t matter, or like they need to be scolded and fenced in because they’re still children. I want them to know they’re powerful; they’re in control of their own lives, even when they feel trapped. I want them to relish the freedom of youth while looking forward to the potential of adulthood.
This is what young adult literature means to me. This is why I write it.