When someone finds out you’re a writer, one of the first questions they usually ask is “What do you write?” (you know, if they’re not too busy telling you all about this great idea for a book they had). If you say Teen or Young Adult, a curious thing happens; for most, they either look politely baffled or just a little pitying. In these cases, at best you’ll get a “Oh…that’s nice”. Then there are the other times.
“Oh, well I’m sure you’ll write a real book someday.”
“Oh, that’ll be great practice for when you’re a real writer!”
“Have you ever thought about writing for adults?”
As if there is nothing valid about the whole host of children’s and young adult literature available. Kids and Teen authors are just people who never got the nerve or the talent to write acceptable books.
I’m calling shenanigans.
Most- most– of the people who hold with that belief have never read a YA book. If they have, it’s probably either Twilight or Maximum Ride. They don’t have a genuine exposure to the vast array of amazing books that are out there so they make sweeping judgments off of a very few titles and think they’re somehow justified in that.
I defy anyone to read Laini Taylor’s The Daughter of Smoke and Bone and not be blown away by the gorgeous writing.
Or Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races and not care, deeply and passionately, about these characters.
Give me the gritty police procedural fantasy of Tamora Pierce’s Terrier or the high-class art thieves of Ally Carter’s Heist Society, or the constantly shifting layers upon layers of Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief series.
Young Adult takes every bit as much talent and work and drive as anything sitting on the genre shelves, and what’s more, it doesn’t matter how far-fetched or fantastically set the story, it consistently and persistently tackles real issues for teens. Issues about love and friendship, about acceptance and belonging and loyalty and family, about hard decisions and impossible choices, about easy ways out that are so hard to come back from, about coming to know yourself and the world you live in.
John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is a Young Adult title. It’s immersive and overwhelming and real and quite possibly the hardest-hitting thing I’ve ever read. It is, in all ways, staggering genius. But- how many professional reviews tell their readers that “it’s not really a teen book”. Shenanigans! It is a teen book. It was written for them, it was produced for them, it’s sold for them. Is it accesible with a wide age appeal? HELL YES. This is a book that should be read by anyone mature enough to handle their heart being broken, and maybe even a few that aren’t. I thoroughly encourage adults to read it, and I think they’ll be as blown away by it as all of the teens who’ve sobbed and laughed over the pages. But it IS a teen book.
And that shouldn’t be an apology.
I write YA. It’s where my stories and my characters and my voice lives. I will not apologize for that, and I refuse to think less of my stories or the amazing books on the shelves simply because anything for children is expected to be childish.
In a wonderful interview with Stephen Colbert, Maurice Sendak said “I don’t write children’s books. I write books, and someone says they’re for children”.
Paraphrasing one of my favorite statements about our craft, Madeleine L’Engle said (something along the lines of) “Write the story you want to tell, and if it’s too complicated for adults, tell it to children”.
Children are willing to face difficult things, they’re willing to come to books with complete openness and honesty and come away carrying the story and the characters with them long after the last page.
Harry Potter is a children’s book series. Percy Jackson is a children’s book series. Hunger Games is a teen’s book series. They are amazing children’s books- not amazing for children’s books.
Don’t ever apologize for what you write.
Until next time~