So I’ve been giving a lot of thought to YA fiction lately. Thanks to those of you who’ve replied to my Reader Poll on the subject. There seem to be a couple of different things at play here. One, YA/teen fiction is seen as being about teens but not really intended for them to read–it’s seen as being intended for tweens and younger. The stories are seen as uncomplicated (and often totally out of touch with the reality of the world of teens today), and frequently the characters are considered too simple by actual teens to be of interest. They are not characters to whom today’s teens can relate. So many (I don’t have statistics on it so that I can say “most”) teens naturally gravitate toward adult fiction. That was certainly the case with me. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to read about kids my own age (when I was that age), but rather that the books available (the R.L. Steins, the Christopher Pikes, etc.) were overly simplistic and did not in any way present characters to whom I could relate. Which is not to put down R.L. Stein or Christopher Pike or any other YA authors–but I was clearly not their intended audience. By 12 or 13 I was already into Mary Higgins Clark and many other mystery authors, as I’d already devoured every Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys I could get my hands on (I’ve always had a passion for mysteries). The stories were more complex and interesting and though I didn’t always understand all the adult themes, they were far more intriguing and interesting than what was available in teen fiction of the day. Now granted, teen fiction has come a long way in the last fifteen years (thank God!) but I think there still linger some of these same attitudes.
Teens have brains, regardless of their actual academic intellectual capacity. They want an interesting read. They want characters who are their age, who face the same challenges about fitting in, wanting to be accepted by their peers, dealing with drugs, alcohol, and sex. These are (perhaps sadly) realities for teens today. I think there may be a tendency of some teen authors to gloss over or skip these facts or simply moralize about them and that’s really a disservice to teen readers themselves. And that’s what I’ve tried to take into account when writing my own YA novels. I write what I wanted to read in those days (more of what L.J. Smith wrote). What I would certainly like to see is more teen fiction available that’s in the vein of lots of these popular T.V. shows–(and I’m totally dating myself here)–Dawson’s Creek, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars–these are shows about teenagers, about high school and college–and they don’t shy away from the issues that teens actually face. Perhaps this is a contributing factor to why teens watch these shows and don’t read much these days. Let’s do something revolutionary! Give them what they want! Give them books about characters that are their age, facing their issues, and recognizing the fact that these teens are on the threshold of adulthood.
All very valid points, and well worth considering when setting out to write a YA book. I certainly skipped straight from Biggles and The Hardy Boys onto The Stainless Steel Rat and Pern without anything in the middle, and while it wasn’t a jolt, it would’ve been nice to have something to grow up with rather than jump straight from one to the next.