by Julie Eshbaugh
Today is my birthday, *throws confetti* so I thought that, instead of a typical “Julie post” centering on a specific writing technique, I would post a more philosophical post (what I tend to think of as a “Savannah post” ;D) about why I write Young Adult fiction. My birthday seemed a proper occasion to discuss the reasons why a writer who has moved beyond her own “young adulthood” might continue to write about characters in their teens. Tucked in with my “reasons why” are a few “reasons why not.” In other words, YA isn’t for everyone. In explaining why I continue to write for young adults, maybe I can help other writers see why YA might be right – or wrong – for them.
Reason #1 – Teen Protagonists Rock
Why are teen protagonists so fabulous? I could list dozens of reasons, but here are my favorite characteristics of teens, in no particular order:
• They are still discovering who they are. They can do something incredible and not seem to be acting out of character, or be going against everything that has defined them for the past ten years.
• They aren’t jaded yet. They may think they are, but their ideas are still flexible. Compare your favorite teen hero to his or her parent to see what I mean. Katniss did things in THE HUNGER GAMES that her mother could never have done. Well, maybe her mother could have done those things, before she’d been broken by life. In other words, back when she, herself, was a teenager.
• Teenagers are resilient. Their young bodies bounce back. If Haymitch survived some of the physical challenges Katniss survived, the writer might lose some credibility. Imagine Dumbledore in Harry’s place and I’m sure you can see what I mean.
• One of the universal truths of humanity is that we all started out young and naïve. We all were children once. We all were teenagers. The experience of seeing the world through young eyes is universal.
Reason #2 – I LOVE teenagers
This is a pretty important reason to me, and should be considered carefully by any writer beyond their own young adulthood before deciding to write for young adults. If you don’t truly enjoy the company of teenagers, I think you should reconsider if this is the audience you should write for. There are a lot of adults who feel they have something to “teach” teenagers. Those adults should consider ways other than YA novels to reach out to young people. Teenagers are smart. They know if they are being preached to or if the book they are reading is meant to deliver a moral lesson. YA editors recognize these “lessons” disguised as “fiction” too, and reject them. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that a book shouldn’t have meaning. But there is a difference between a story with meaning and a sermon written as a story.
Personally, I know I love teenagers because I’ve been working as a mentor for teens for about twelve years now. My favorite hour of my week is the hour I spend with about fifteen teenagers. I also know that not everyone my age feels this way. That’s understandable. Young adults invigorate some people; others they drain. Keep this in mind if you want to write YA. If you can’t imagine yourself spending time with your characters and their friends, then maybe you should write for a different audience.
Reason #3 – I choose to read YA books
I don’t read YA exclusively. My favorite genre to read is YA, followed closely by literary fiction. However, I’ve noticed that many of my favorite non-YA books have teenaged protagonists. The action of ATONEMENT by Ian McEwan is set in motion by an event that involved young adult characters. LOLITA by Nabokov involves a young girl and her complex relationship with an adult man. CATCHER IN THE RYE and THE LOVELY BONES revolve around teenagers, even though they are not generally seen as YA novels. I count all of these books among my favorites.
But the truth is, when I walk into a bookstore, I head straight for the Young Adult section. My favorite books of 2010 were THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy. I absolutely devoured them, and I know that they will forever remain near the top of my “favorite books of all time” list. Though it sometimes may be unpopular to admit this, I truly enjoyed the TWILIGHT saga. I recently read THE POISON DIARIES by Maryrose Wood (a book that really deserved more attention than it received) and wondered, as I closed the last page, how I would endure the wait for the next installment. Add the realistic worlds of books by writers like Laurie Halse Anderson to the sci-fi/fantasy worlds of writers like Suzanne Collins, and there is nothing my literary appetite craves that can’t be found in the YA section of the bookstore.
So these are my personal reasons for writing YA. My husband says the true reason is that I have never stopped being a teenager. Sadly, I know that isn’t true. But it is true that I have never forgotten what it feels like to be a teenager. And I hope that by reading and writing YA, I never will forget.
Long live my teenaged self! Because “young Julie” was flexible, unafraid, resilient, and unjaded. Somehow, I’ve managed to keep young Julie’s spirit alive inside “not-so-young Julie.” If reading and writing Young Adult fiction have contributed to that, may I NEVER EVER stop!
Do you write for young adults? Are you still in that age group yourself? Do you know that the adult market is the only market for you? What about middle grade or children’s? Please share your opinions with me in the comments!