So, okay, that’s Canadian speak for “Why YA”? As some readers may have heard, YA (young adult literature) is a total THING now. Agents are clamoring for it, publishers are knocking each other unconscious for hot properties. It’s a scary scene.
So, right now maybe you’re asking yourself what the hell has happened to teenagers in the last decade that they are:
- Suddenly interested in reading so much?
- Suddenly have so much TIME to read?
- Suddenly have enough money to buy millions of books?
Now I’m no business analyst, but I’m pretty sure a goodly portion of the recent wild success of the YA publishing industry can be attributed not to teens but to grown men and women reading these books. I read these books compulsively myself. What is the secret?
I have a feeling it has something to do with the way teenagers experience things. In YA books, teenagers are often doing things that have become mundane in our adult lives. But to them these things are new. Love, sex, dating, staying up all night, buying expensive clothes, trying new foods, rebelling. Most adults have done these things until they’re not interesting anymore. But reading about teens doing them reminds us of our first time.
Here’s an example: someone I follow on twitter, an agent, recently tweeted that she was excited to have a leather jacket for the first time in her life, after wanting one since she was a teen. You can imagine something like this taking up a whole chapter of a YA book – my first leather jacket, coveting it, saving for it, paying for it. I’ve had half a dozen leather jackets, it’s boring to me now, but seeing it again as something exciting and new makes it fun again. Makes me more excited about the leather jackets I have. Makes me remember my first leather jacket. Makes me miss it for the first time in years (it was stolen).
Even fantasy or dystopian YA draws in adult readers this way. Most adult readers have never faced what Katniss Everdeen faces (I say MOST. Ever been to North Korea or the Sudan?) but we have all faced insensitive, seemingly arbitrary and unfair bureaucracy (ever tried to enroll your child in French Immersion?). We have all felt victimized and trapped. We have all felt alone, as if all hope was lost. Most of us adults have faced these things so many times that they bore us. We bear these daily slights with stoic resignation, never thinking of doing this:
But teenagers are almost never stoic, and those in YA books even less so. There’s a not so secret part of the adult readers of YA books that wants to become belligerent and disagreeable. I would even go so far to say that most characters of successful novels, even if they are adults, share some of this belligerence; they are more like teenagers, no matter their age.
I have long been inspired by tweens and teenagers, even before I started to write about and for them. They haven’t had the life crushed out of them by cynicism. They have a clear view of the future, unsullied by broken dreams and dashed hopes. Not only are teenagers a work in progress, but to them the whole world is. They genuinely believe they can make it better, different, more suited their desires and whims.
Would that we old fuddy-duddies could remember this.
THAT’s why YA.