As someone who grew up as a teenager during the last decade, the state of YA Fiction is something near and dear to my heart. But I’m also a writer, and a writer of YA Fiction, so I feel like I have a second stake in this area. This is a response (obviously) to the Slate article “The Decade in Young Adult Fiction” by Laura Miller.
Readers of YA lit can get a lot of crap. In part because a majority of it is teenage romance, teenage angst, and teenage drama. But although these three things alone are not the makings of a genre that can transcend to almost any age, there’s so much more to YA than this article is giving it credit for.
I can list the different types of trends that have surfaced over the past decade: magic, vampires, boarding school romances, paranormal boyfriends, dystopian worlds, and alien boyfriends. Yeah it’s gotten a bit weird, but I wonder what’s causing that? Maybe it’s this crazy world we live in that’s driving writers to even crazier tactics to reach young adults.
Science fiction or fantasy, makes tomorrow’s ogres real and present, within the threatening framework of an imaginative world. It is within this framework that the writer can challenge readers, through the persona of the protagonist, to find answers…as they identify with the main character, they begin to understand the possibilities, the greatness of being fully human. They are empowered.
Young Adult Literature and Culture – Harry Edwin Eiss
It’s my belief that the fantastical makes the trials of everyday feel approachable and understandable. Sometimes the hard things in our lives seem impossible until we take a step away from them. But that’s easier said than done. Seeing similar — if not exaggerated or fantasized — events in YA books can help teens feel not so alone. So yeah, it’s gotten a bit weird. But it kind of had to.
As for the whole James Frey conspiracy where he made up his “memoir” and formed a group of writers to push out literature and make money — I mean, yes, it’s true. The same thing can be seen on YouTube right now with bizarre content farms popping up. I think the difference is, when I was younger reading I Am Number Four, I actually enjoyed the books. They were some good juicy romance in my middle school eyes. And even if they were written with the intention of making money, at least they motivated me to be a writer myself.
I really think Frey’s quote is quite interesting in the article Slate references. I also recommend checking the actual article out for yourself.
Frey said he never considered whether A Million Little Pieces was fiction or nonfiction—and anyway, before the memoir craze of the nineties, it would have been published as a novel. “If Picasso painted a Cubist self-portrait,” he suggested, “nobody would say it didn’t look like him.”“James Frey’s Fiction Factory” – Suzanne Mozes
Just like reality TV and most other realistic fiction YA, Frey just made a realistic and sensationalized book in the hopes of making sales. The point is, I think people are exploiting a broken system. Everyone is of course trying to make money. Only a few writers will write simply because they love the craft. But I think after the whole J.K. Rowling explosion of wealth, a lot of authors began to see that YA lit was where it’s at for commercial fiction. And if you’re a decent writer and a good business person, it’s not hard to imagine someone taking advantage of writing quick, trendy stories that capture the next generation’s imagination.
If anything, we just need to learn from this and recognize that many writers are just pushing out books for bragging rights and making money. And like the publishing company, movie producers know that teen flicks just sell tickets. Of course they’re going to keep making the worst and most dramatic of these books into shows and movies. But we have to think about young adults when we’re writing and publishing. We have to keep making content that pushes them forward and encourages them. Even if that kind of book is making bank, I would be okay with it. Maybe that’s just me.
As someone who is currently sending query letters to agents, I’ve come across a large amount of agents who are looking only for #ownvoices writers. If you’re not aware of this phrase, it basically means that the diversity the book includes is written by a person who has experienced the events or cultures.
While #ownvoices is a great invitation for more diverse writers for YA lit, there’s several problems that many people argue about. This is a sensitive topic for a lot of people, to say the least. If you feel like I missed something, please leave a comment below. I’d love to learn from your own experience of creating diversity in the publishing industry.
While inviting diversity in the publishing industry can result with great books like The Poet X and Children of Blood and Bone, some people argue that forcing diversity doesn’t automatically equate to good writing. Of course we should have way more minority stories represented in our YA lit. Young adults need to have mirrors (stories that reflect their experience) as well as windows (stories that show someone else’s experience). I personally have loved exploring the different authors who represent cultures and experiences other than my own. And I have also recently read books published by very white people that have problematic representation and themes.
However, there are two things that need to be addressed. One — a first person account will of course be more authentic, but genuine secondhand accounts can also be impactful. Two — agents and publishing companies who are accepting only diverse, minority perspectives, but don’t provide these writers security and protection, are putting these people in very vulnerable positions.
Although the publishing companies may be turning around in wanting more than a white perspective, a friend of mine from the LGBTQ+ community made the comment that she wouldn’t feel comfortable writing a story as a member of this community, but she would love to tell her story to a writer and help them write LGBTQ+ characters better. This is of course one perspective, but I wonder how many other people feel the same?
I think the point for diversity in YA is that you can’t force it. Just like you can’t force good writing. This isn’t a recent problem. But something that has been going on for a very long time. We have to protect and encourage people belonging to minority groups so that we can support them as writers. But also I personally don’t only want to write about white girls my entire life. Writing only what you know just isn’t what writers do. All of us have to do better. Every writer must be willing to accept they were wrong about something or someone and change for the better.
If you haven’t checked out my post for Sex in YA Fantasy, you should definitely read part one and two. YA is an important genre for teenagers, and we need to keep publishing quality stories that encourage young adults to read, think about themselves in new ways, and help them see the lives of different people more clearly.
Also young adults aren’t the only ones driving this burning car. According to a study done in 2012, about 55% of YA readers were over the age of 18 and therefore classified as “adults.” I wouldn’t be surprised to find that statistic is pretty much the same today. But why?
I think there’s several reasons:
YA books are the reason I decided to be a writer, and I’m sure many others can say the same. Even as an adult, I love reading YA books — even the bad ones. Of course we need to work on a better system, but let’s not forget all of the good it’s done in the past decade either.