YA as a universal experience

When I was growing up, I read a lot of what would now be classified Middle Grade, and then mostly skipped over books of a Young Adult nature and started reading Adult. Part of this was because there weren’t that many YA books back then (or I wasn’t aware of them), and part of it was that the stories didn’t interest me a whole lot. It seemed to be dominated by contemporary (I was a hardcore fantasy fan), and the stakes were rarely high enough to keep me interested.

So it’s sort of funny that now that I’m an adult, I read mostly YA books. And, after trying out both the Adult and MG waters, I’ve settled into writing only YA books. This doesn’t really have anything to do with YA being such a big mover in the marketplace right now. It has more to do with what the books of my heart are. The stories I love. And what YA has become in the years since I was a teen.

There seems to be a misconception, mostly among people who haven’t read any current YA, that because the stories are classified as for teens and feature teen protagonists they’re therefore immature or childish somehow. But I think that’s missing the point. It’s not about age. It’s about the experience of being a teen. And I think that putting an age-related label on that experience prevents us from recognizing that many adults are working through similar things.

When we’re teens we’re trying to figure out who we are. We’re struggling with trying to become independent people while working within the restrictions placed on us. We’re sorting out our place in society, where we fit in. Trying to build relationships with other people, navigating the tricky social waters with our peers. Learning what we’re capable of, pushing our boundaries a bit, seeing what we can achieve. Taking responsibility and making decisions even when we don’t or can’t know if we’re doing the right thing.

Is this really that different from many adults? Regardless of age or race or class or location, we all go through this. I think that’s why today’s YA has crossed over to the adult market so well. The YA books being written today are about all these things, and the protagonists go through big changes as they figure out the answers. We can relate to the characters and their struggles, even as adults, because we’re struggling with the same thing. The fact that typically in today’s YA the pacing is quick and the stakes are high just helps keep us glued to the book. Many YA books have neither, but are still well-loved because of the character’s internal journey.

I write about teens, but I don’t write (just) for teens. I write for everyone who is still trying to discover themselves. And that has nothing to do with age. Teens just happen to be where this experience is most obvious, and most ubiquitous. And, let’s be honest, most (melo?)dramatic. :)

Edit 10/19: In a curious case of synchronicity, Hannah Moskowitz posted about basically this same subject yesterday, and Steph Sinkhorn touched upon it today. Something in the air?

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One response to “YA as a universal experience

  1. Probably IS something in the air, haha :)

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