I often find myself in a bookstore these days. Perhaps it’s a necessary evil for my profession. Maybe I simply call it market research to see what’s out there and what’s hot. Or it could be that I tell myself I’m just browsing to get inspired. But most likely it’s just because I love books.
But if there’s one thing I’ve noticed as I peruse the aisles, it’s the influx of New Adult, or NA, books on the shelves. Their stories involve college age characters that will usually incorporate “hotter” story lines, allowing the writer to pursue topics or sexual situations that may be considered inappropriate for younger characters. There’s clearly a market for New Adult, and authors are taking advantage of the newfound enthusiasm in that particular genre…and rightfully so. In fact, I have quite a few friends who focus primarily on writing NA. I’m thrilled that these authors have created a niche for themselves and have given so many people a reason to pick up a book and read. To spin a familiar phrase – if you write it, they will come!
As for me, I am still in love with Young Adult. It’s the genre that got me to fall in love with reading all those years ago as a preteen. It focuses on an age that introduced us to first love, first heartbreak, complicated friendships, strained parental relationships, and searching for who we will one day become. And in high school, escape becomes vital to those kids that need a way to forget their own problems and issues. Being a teenager is rough – but reading about other teens who face, and defeat, adversity can offer the reader a positive outlet for their anxiety.
Now, there are those who will try to make you believe that YA books belong only in the hands of teenagers. They insist that adults who read YA are only looking for a simple and easy read – that these same adults are looking for uncomplicated stories that are nothing more than typical teenage angst. But I can tell you that those people are wrong There is nothing simple or easy about Young Adult. In fact, just head over to your local bookstore and pick up the hottest YA reads out right now. “Maze Runner”, “If I Stay”, “The Fault in Our Stars”, and “The Hunger Games” are just a few that prove that there’s nothing simple about the fictional life of a teenager. These characters are deep, complicated and thoughtful. They deal with real life issues like death, fear, love, hate, and injustice and handle it all with the grace and dignity that most adults would envy. They believe in the unbelievable and carry with them the unmistakable teenage spirit.
It isn’t so much about the age of those young characters as it is their attitude toward life. Think back to your own teenage years. You thought you’d live forever. You thought that you were indestructible. And when someone broke your heart or tore open your soul, you felt like your life was over and that you’d never be whole again. Yet, somehow you managed to bounce back each time and move on. As we grow older, we somehow become jaded and forget how to be as resilient as our younger selves. Bravery is something we seem to lose as we age, but I for one regain some of it each time I open my laptop and give my characters the strength to face anything that comes their way.
This is why I love to write YA as much as I love to read it. I’m able to discover strengths in my own characters that I didn’t know they had when I first began writing them. And somewhere inside those characters, I discover that I’ve placed a bit of myself in each one – the good, the bad, the fearful, and the brave. I live vicariously through those characters every time I pick up a book. By reading (and writing) YA, we can remind ourselves what it is to be young again – to be truly free from society’s idea of who we should be and how we should act. My characters say what I could never say at that age – do what I was too afraid to act on myself.
I recently reached out to a few of my friends and asked them why they loved YA and what it meant to them. Their responses were overwhelming, and I wanted to share some of them with you.
Author, Jo Michaels – “I get a kid’s perspective on things and get to watch someone grow up on the pages as they do things most adults secretly dream of doing.”
Author, Amy Miles – “Teens want to have a voice. To feel like they matter. That people hear them. Books give them an outlet to experience the world and feel like they can escape the terrible things that may be happening in their real life.”
Author, Eva Pohler – “I love YA because they usually portray a coming of age in which the protagonist comes into her own – becomes empowered. To me, that is very inspirational.”
Editor, Wendy Felber – “I read YA because there is a side of me that believes in the impossible possibilities. I think, as adults we are jaded, having to be so realistic that we lose the wonder and mystery, the innocence of not knowing our limits, of having no limits. In YA, I can live in those moments, remember what it is like to have no boundaries, and know that the older I get, I need to find some fiction to fit into my life and not live so seriously.”
Author, Chelsea Starling – “I admit to sometimes feeling jaded as an adult, and YA stories remind me what it feels like to be faced with responsibilities, huge mistakes (that seem so small now) and that soul-aching first love, which can never be repeated, no matter how we pine for it. It’s fun to live in those moments again, when all was wrong and yet so right with the world.”
Author, Elizabeth Sharp – “The characters aren’t jaded and they can still believe in magic. Their lives are still ahead of them, and everything that entails. And their emotions are so exaggerated – they love with all their heart, hate with every fiber, sorrow comes from their toes.”
Author, Morgan Wylie – “It’s about the ‘firsts’: First kiss, first breakup, first romance, etc. Especially as I read and write fantasy and paranormal, it’s also about the journey, about adventure, and escape…escaping the day-to-day things, the drama, the dullness – whatever it may be.”
So, to those who feel that YA books belong in the hands of teenagers – you are partly correct. The truth is that YA books belong in the hands of the young, both in age and in spirit.