I came across this article this morning, and couldn’t help but think how perfectly relevant it is to my purpose in writing: Young adult fiction stagnant, troublingly formulaic (opens in a new tab).
It was the quote at the top of the page that got me.
“If YA (young adult) fiction starts to challenge young adults to think differently about the world around them, it could start to bring a real, important impact to the shaping of a generation.”
-The Valley Vanguard
The reason this quote struck me is because this is exactly what I hope to do through my writing: help teens and young adults see and understand the world. In particular, I want them to know and believe that they are not alone in their struggles; but I also want them to realize that in knowing they are not alone, they can both help and be helped, be supportive and supported. In short, understanding that we are not alone should both comfort us and give us the strength and desire to comfort others. If we are not alone, neither is anyone else, nor should anyone feel that they are.
I have read a LOT of mainstream YA fiction. It’s obvious that there is a sweeping attempt at showing young people that they are not alone. But this attempt by and far has a much too narrow scope. Sure, teens need to know that they’re not the only ones who have a crush on the hot football quarterback who doesn’t know they exist, or that they’re not the only kid who feels like a geek with glasses and braces, or even that they are far from being the only teenager who deals with deep depression or suicidal thoughts.
But there is so much more, not only to being a teen or young adult, but to the world; and young people need to know about it. Maybe they are going through some things that truly very few people can understand or relate to; they still need to know they are not alone. But maybe they have a friend who is dealing with someone and they don’t know, or if they do know, they don’t know how to help. Or maybe kids just need to be made aware of the horrors that other kids their age sometimes face. If we keep sad and scary things a secret, nothing will ever be done to change them. Maybe the kid whose biggest struggle was making friends in high school will be the kid who becomes passionate about child abuse and grows up to found a child abuse advocacy center. Maybe the teen who dealt with depression but was never exposed to drugs is the one who grows up to help hundreds of kids passing through the foster care system.
Maybe one of them becomes a police officer, or a lawyer, or a therapist, because they want to help kids and teens who face terrible things they should never have to face.
But if they aren’t aware, maybe the passion to help never grows in their heart and soul.
The other thing this article addresses that I found personal to my writing is the flatness of the characters in most YA writing. I don’t think anyone could deny that there is a “typical” YA female protagonist. And though the article specifically mentions the look of the character, this unoriginality also appears in the behavior of the characters. Have you ever read a book and felt like you’d read the protagonist in other books, by other authors, about completely different situations? I have. Several times. And while my teen and young adult characters may say or do things that are “typical” of people their age, I work hard to let their own individual personalities and ways of dealing with things shine through.
And maybe that’s the difference between YA authors. Some writers fabricate stories and put them to paper, attempt to find a plot that will attract the presses and even the Hollywood screenwriters. Mainstream sells; there’s no denying that.
But others of us are more than the writers of stories we’ve made up ourselves. We have characters in our head with stories that demand to be told. These characters refuse to be silenced and won’t leave us alone until their stories are put to paper. It is they who are telling the stories; we are simply the conduit.