To You, Unsure Reader of Young Adult Novels

Greetings, my dear reader. I know that you’re unsure about the young adult novel in your hands. I imagine certain thoughts are crossing your mind: I’ve read YA before, and it just wasn’t for me; these books are always about growing up, high school dances, kids having rocky relationships with their parents or guardians, or trying to date that one girl or guy. Today, I hope to challenge your notions of what a young adult novel can be – and what it can inspire in you.

There is a distinct (and booming) niche for the teenage reader, which has been tapped ad infinitum. Authors have thrown it all at us, werewolves and vampires, rebels with cancer, athletes with ego issues, gay love and saccharine romances, expecting novel results and seldom challenging the status quo. But I firmly believe that there are stronger points to be made in these stories. All of the aforementioned topics may feel trite, but that’s because, in my reading experience, few authors have dared to convey them in a way that shows lifelong growth and humanism. Sure, a track star who needs to win races to feel fulfilled can be compelling, but if he’s equally driven and displeasing to the reader then that dissonance can draw the us in even more. As YA authors, I believe it’s our responsibility to take those all-too-familiar high school and college scenarios – prom, the swim meet, that moment of losing one’s virginity – and tell them in a way that moves the reader and helps them to reflect on their own growth.

Every YA writer is also accountable for admitting how rocky the teen years can be – and not overemphasizing the highs and lows without a compelling reason. Yes, I appreciate the author who doesn’t spare us the gritty details of a junior who just got dumped by her boyfriend, or the doping weightlifter who gets caught and expelled, feeling like honest training is a lost cause anyway. Above all else, though, I immensely respect the author who juggles a young adult’s pitfalls and their strengths, and in light of all their environmental influences. Who hasn’t changed (or thought about changing) degrees because of parental or social pressure? Who can’t imagine what it’s like to receive a kiss that later turned out to mean little to nothing?

I have one foot on this dance floor, too, and would be remiss to not tell you what’s in it for me. I love YA novels, always have ever since I picked up Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War in the seventh grade and realized what it meant to stand up to a wayward cause. I haven’t turned in to Jerry Renault completely, though; as a counselor in training, I’m learning to gravitate toward different people and belief systems very foreign to me. Still, I have these big ideas that I can’t wait to pen. I write because I remember my first high school dance, and because I still wonder if I was considerate enough to myself during my first sexual encounter. I stand behind the power of a story from the halls of high school and the dorm rooms of colleges because I believe that we see and hear and take in the most during those years. We dabble in the little things our parents shielded us from for so long – and figure out that they won’t kill us, if we’re careful. We stand on our own two feet, feeling what it’s like to have to feed ourselves and pay our own bills. All of it is one eclectic electric collage, and I embrace all the horrors and triumphs of our eighteen, nineteen, and twenty-something years.

So please, if you think you’ve read it all, consider it one more time. I know there are parts of your teen years that you want to stay buried, and that rightfully belong in the ground. I know that these dances and first crushes and last finish lines can’t all be yours. But they can have a meaningful connection to you on some level. Whatever you cherish, I hope one day I can allude to it in my writing. Your fondest memories will be in these pages somewhere, with a slightly different taste or touch or hue.

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