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Why I Write Young Adult

Not too long ago, I read about an interaction between an author friend of mine and a dissatisfied reader who seemed to blame young adult protagonists for the unrealistic expectations of our youth today. Yep. You read that right. I wish I was joking, but sadly I’m not.

This particular reader was obviously a lover of the contemporary classics that once used to the norm within literary culture. Jane Austen, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mary Shelley, and even Harper Lee have each left an indelible mark in the world. These authors created strong characters, interesting worlds, and subliminal moral end-games that still stand on their own, even today. There are some in the world that will argue that only serious works such as these merit any kind of praise in the literary world.

But the world of young adult literature doesn’t contradict what these great authors worked hard to achieve. In fact, I truly believe that YA…good YA…is something that can create a movement of its own if given the chance. Much has changed since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, and not enough has changed since Harper Lee penned her classic To Kill a Mockingbird. But what it comes down to is that each generation has its own trials, difficulties, and hardships to get through, and these are the very things that push authors such as myself to find a way to give our readers the ability to escape reality, if even only for a few hours at a time.

While having a conversation with my 12-year-old, I began to realize a correlation between the tribulations of the world today and the books that I write. At some point during our discussion, I told her, “It breaks my heart that I’m having to raise you in a world filled with so much hatred. I don’t understand how folks can live with so much hate. It must be exhausting to be filled with such animosity toward others all the time. If people were more accepting of each others’ differences, this world would be a much more peaceful place to live.” And it was in that moment that I had an epiphany.

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest successes in the young adult world today. There’s the series about a capitol that controls its citizens by forcing children to kill each other. Another series tells the story of a boy born with magical powers who, in the end, must defeat the evil that killed his parents. There’s one about a teenage girl who fights off aliens to rescue her brother, and yet another one that tells the story about a teenage girl who falls in love with a sparkly vampire. At first glance, these books may not appear to have any kind of deep, moral meaning. In fact, some of them may come off as shallow and self-serving.

But once you delve into the storylines, each appears to contain a deeper meaning such as a cautionary tale of pride, power, and ego. YA isn’t always just young, teenagers in love who recklessly traverse the world of high school by falling in love with the first person they meet. YA can be thought provoking and life changing, and at times can stab us in the heart as we fly through a box of Kleenex.

It’s unfair to group YA as a whole and say that it’s ruining literature and dumbing down its readers. While it’s true that there are plenty of books out there where you can turn off your brain and just enjoy the story, there are many YA authors such as myself that try to ensure that the story contains something of substance – something that will make the reader think about themselves, society, norms, and even love itself. John Green and James Dashner have mastered the art of subtext, forcing their readers to reconsider what teens actually go through and what they’re truly capable of. And while their books can make you cry, gasp, and hold your breath, their strong, brave, and optimistic protagonists can remind you that anything is possible if you want it badly enough.

I’ve chosen to write YA because the world is a scary place to grow up. Violence, hatred, poverty, and heartbreak are a part of a teenager’s world in this day and age. Good doesn’t always defeat evil, humanity doesn’t always do the right thing, and people die. And no matter how old you are, whatever you read should speak to you in some way. It can make you think, inspire you, or leave you questioning what you thought you knew. But sometimes just escaping reality for a few hours is good enough. So to blame young adult protagonists for unrealistic expectations of society’s youth is, I believe, unfair. If anything, a good YA protagonist will inspire today’s youth to be more than they imagined. Strong, brave, and optimistic.

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YA is Everywhere

What books have you read lately? What movies have you seen? Unless you’ve been holed up in a cellar for the past year, there’s a good chance that you ran across a Young Adult novel in one form or another.

  1. Mockingjay, Part 1
  2. If I Stay
  3. The Maze Runner
  4. Divergent
  5. The Fault in Our Stars

What made all of these books such successful movies?

Was it the plot? Was it the characters?

What about “Pretty Little Liars”, “The Lying Game”, and “The Carrie Diaries”? All YA novels that were turned into TV shows.

Whether it’s through books, movies, television, or even just walking down the street behind a bunch of giggling teenage girls, you’re exposed to YA on an almost daily basis. The Young Adult genre isn’t just about teenagers who are coming of age. It’s about the journey they take to find themselves and the people who help them get there.

For me, my love of reading started at an early age. Between the ages of 4 and 11, I read everything I could get my hands on. But soon after that, I discovered the teen section at my public library. And over the next few years, I made my way down the row, reading nearly every book on the shelf. The characters inspired me to find myself – to dig deep and discover qualities within me that even I didn’t know existed.

One of my favorite things about writing YA novels is placing my characters in difficult or dangerous situations and watching how they grow and succeed in spite of it all. No one knows how they’ll react when a life threatening event occurs, and neither do my characters. But when faced with danger, they can find an inner strength to drive them forward. It may be a work of fiction, but sometimes we pick up a book or watch a movie where the characters are a reflection of who we truly want to be.

There are still many people who feel that YA books are below them and that they aren’t literary quality type reads. But I have to disagree. While “The Hunger Games” isn’t Jane Eyre, its dystopian storyline and strong, somewhat vulnerable protagonist, speaks to anyone who has ever gone through a difficult time and has come out changed on the other side. “The Fault in Our Stars” and “If I Stay” makes us question our own mortality while “The Carrie Diaries” shows how perseverance and lots of hard work can lead to realizing your dreams.

So, the next time you head out to the movies, pick up a book, or turn on the TV, check out the Young Adult titles. They may just inspire you to look inside yourself.

Is New Adult Fiction the New Teen Trend?

What will be big with teen readers in the coming months is something that all young adult, or YA, authors think about on a regular basis. What will be the new trend? What will be hot? What will teens be drawn to next? And most of all…what will sell?

A recent article by CNN delves into possible future trends that could catch teen readers’ attentions next. Books with plots that contain current issues like terminal illness are projected to be huge thanks to authors such as John Green. And while paranormal and dystopian books are still popular, themes like mystery, horror, fantasy, and anything having to do with zombies are all on the rise.

But the one thing I took away from this article was its take on the New Adult genre. The article explained that the latest trend with teens is New Adult, or NA as it is commonly called, which contains much sexier, and typically more adult storylines. The main characters are generally college age and involve steamier scenes which are attracting younger readers. This shouldn’t be surprising since it seems that more R-rated movies are being targeted at teen audiences than ever before.

There seems to be a bit of irony involved in this trend. I know that when I’m writing my YA books, my target audience is aimed at teens. I try to incorporate issues and topics that appeal to a teen reader. But I know for a fact that many of my fans and readers are adults. And now there are many NA books that are written for adults that are attracting a growing teen audience.

So, what is a young adult author to do? Do we incorporate sex or hotter storylines in our books to attract those teen readers who are reading NA? Do we delve into darker and more adult topics to find a wider audience?

I don’t think there is any need to compete with NA. Nor should we. NA has a place in modern literature and their authors have earned a place on our bookshelves. But to paraphrase “Field of Dreams”…If you write it, they will come.

There is enough angst involved during the teen years to fill the literary needs of young adults – first love, bullying, eating disorders, peer pressure, rumors, and hundreds of other pertinent topics that affect high schoolers every day – without having to compete with more adult fare. And the fact that adults are reading YA shows that there is an ever-expanding interest in what makes YA truly great. It’s not about the romance – it’s about discovering who you really are and who you are destined to become.

What do you think? Check out the article below and tell me your thoughts.

http://edition.cnn.com/2014/10/14/living/young-adult-trends-diversity/index.html?c&page=0