I’m going to be honest here – I am not aboard the young adult train. I rarely read it, and I don’t write it at all. (I have tried to write it. It always manages to turn into adult fiction.)
But it’s taken the writing world by storm.
Young adult books are in high demand – they are at the forefront of every bookstore I walk into, and it’s not just ‘young adults’ who read them. I know more middle-aged women who read young adult books than I do young adults who read young adult books.
And I find it baffling.
So many of the newer young adult books are… the same. Take a high school, throw in a female protagonist, one male protagonist, one male antagonist, and some sort of superpower/terrible secret, and ta-dah! One YA bestseller coming right up! Don’t forget the love triangle!
I know some of it is the expectations of the genre. Young adult is about ‘coming of age’, and personally, there’s only so much of that I can take. The plots are all the same these days, it seems, just switch the settings around a bit.
Werewolves? Well… I personally haven’t read any werewolf YA, but I’m sure it’s out there. Oh wait, Twilight! We can knock of vampires AND werewolves (sort of) with that.
What I do enjoy is EPIC young adult fantasy, and YA historical fantasy.
Because I’ve found out one thing in my time as a writer and a reader: Fantasy blurs the lines – literally. The expectations of the (non-paranormal) fantasy genre are the same, no matter which age group it is targeted at.
And historical and epic fantasy have two things in common: they are more likely to deal with issues outside of a high school student’s daily concerns. The stakes are larger than just getting the guy/gal, and making it out of high school.
And I think that’s been my problem with YA – I don’t relate to normal high school. Partly because I was homeschooled and never actually attended a public high school, and because during the time I was in high school… I had vastly different priorities than most students, because by the time I was 15 I’d watched my father nearly die, my brother nearly die, and I was beginning a major health battle of my own.
You see things a bit differently after living through things like that. Especially when you’ve lived through them back-to-back.
I relate more to the daily struggles of a young person who is not only expected to be an adult at an early age, but actually act like an adult an early age, because that’s what I’ve lived. I knew how to balance a checkbook by the time I was 16, and I’d done my share of planning and making meals for the family. I singlehandedly cooked the entirety of Thanksgiving dinner the year I turned 18 because my brother was in the hospital and there was no one else to do it.
I had no coming of age, no struggle to figure out who I was. I always knew who I was, and while I didn’t always know what I wanted to do with my life, I knew where I fit – not with the popular crowd. Part of that is the life of being an introvert.
And sometimes I wonder if young people these days are so lost (because look at the reports of suicides, the reports of bullying, and the way so many of them just don’t seem to care) because we’ve catered to the idea that they ‘have to find themselves’ by royally screwing up. Because that’s what almost every YA book I’ve picked up is about.
Maybe, just maybe, we need to accept young adults as who they are from the very start.
Instead of continually asking “Are you sure that’s what you really want?” we need to say “Okay, if that’s what you want, what is your plan to accomplish it?” instead of opening the door for them to doubt their own decisions. Let’s give them a reason to make good decisions in the first place.
Let’s change the trend.
Instead of giving them stories about teenagers fixated on romance and gossip and the newest supernatural creature fad, let’s give them stories about teenagers who make good decisions despite trying circumstances. (And yes, I know these do already exist, but c’mon, it’s like health food – if you have the option of a piece of chocolate cake for dessert, how many of you are really going to pick fruit instead?)
Yes, they can still make mistakes, but let’s show them how to take care of mistakes responsibly. Let’s show them healthy family relationships – even if it’s only with one parent, or a sibling instead of a parent. There is still normalcy, and love, even within a dysfunctional family. Believe me, I know that from personal experience.
Teenagers are extraordinary: most especially because they have their whole lives ahead of them. So let’s show them the opportunity, instead of just trivialities.
Also, just as writers, let’s take a little bit more pride in our work and create something unique, instead of making YA Mad Lib novels. Please.