Why YA?

This is a tricky question. It’s not exactly rhetorical, but it’s also not one of those ones that requires a definitive answer. It’s not like “Can I put away this cordless drill?” or, “Do you need anything from the store?”

People are allowed to write what interests them. That’s the cool thing about writing—you get to tell the stories that matter to you. People ask why I write about high school and I’m inclined to say that it’s because I am allowed to. Which is a complete cop-out.

So, honesty time: I write YA because high school was one of the most interesting things that has ever happened to me in my whole entire life. Ever.

This is mostly because it was the first time I had attended—you know—school, and when you spend the majority of your time alone in your room with your extensive collection of spiral-bound notebooks, or else playing Blackjack with your sister, you never have to practice skills like plotting the quickest route to your locker or peacefully coexisting with 2,500 total strangers.

On the first day, a boy asked me which junior high I’d gone to and I told him, very indistinctly (I’d previously had near-perfect diction, but the social rigors of school immediately transformed me into a mumbler) that I had been homeschooled by hippies.

He looked at me for a long, long time. Then he squinted and said, “Wait—did you just say you were raised by gypsies?”

I shrugged. I lifted my hands and let them flop back down. “Sure. Yeah, that.”

Because at a certain point, there is not really a quantifiable difference.

I realized at once that being homeschooled by hippies (alternately, gypsies) was not very normal. In an attempt to isolate the elements of Normal—not an attempt to necessarily be normal, but just to have a clear understanding of what it entailed—I started writing things down.

I wrote down what people did and said and wore, and how they acted when they knew people were watching them, as compared to how they acted when they thought they were alone. I developed theories on various mating rituals, and divided displays of aggression into classes and subclasses. I studied my peers with the intensity of an anthropologist. A tiny, unlicensed anthropologist who was supposed to be doing her English homework.

But that was at the beginning. After a few weeks, I stopped trying to wedge everything into a scientific schema. I was interested in people because they were interesting. They were surprising and kind of wonderful, and I wrote down anything remarkable (and many things that—looking back—were not particularly remarkable) every single day. I have never in my life paid as much attention to what was going on around me as I did between the ages of 15 and 18.

So, I guess the answer is, I write YA because I still have hundreds and hundreds of close-written pages, no respect for the margins, all of them containing something raw and startling and true to remind me what it was like. Because it’s very interesting to watch who people are while they’re in the process of becoming themselves. It’s very real.

What about you—readers, writers, either, both—why YA?

13 thoughts on “Why YA?

  1. I have such a hard time thinking of you all as YA writers, because your writing is so smart and just GOOD. There’s no dumbing down or condescension in it at all.

    • Good YA never, ever condescends or dumbs down. Teens and kids are smarter than most adults about that kind of thing. And more perceptive. They won’t read something they find patronizing. Nor should they!
      But… thanks! :D

    • Hahaha–Tess says it best!
      I know exactly what you’re talking about though–I read stacks and stacks of trashy teen horror novels when I was a teenager and never once thought of them as “real” books. They were just the mental equivalent of, like, Twinkies.
      Now though, the YA section is where I find a lot of my favorite books. The genre has become really amazing just in the last decade or so. I’m so jealous, because these are the books I would have loved when I was in high school–they just didn’t exist yet!

  2. I’m new to YA, thanks to you guys, and I haven’t read enough to say I read YA, but I’m not sure that I see a difference. If you read graphic sex or violence, mmm, maybe, but suspense, romance, horror, is always best if it’s subtle, and sensory, and good writing is good reading.
    I think on a sensory level youth today is living almost dangerously. They have so much; the graphics in visual media shock imagination rather than stimulate it. Sex, violence, and a social life is only a txt or a keyboard away, and the mystery and romance of maturing has been bombarded into submission. Human interaction and communication is changed forever.
    I think YA has to be stronger, more mature, and better than adult literature to attract readers. And I think it does. It has to be the addiction that does no harm.
    Readers in general, sadly I think, are fading. I guess in some families and communities there’s a revolution for change, for good old family values, but we can’t keep up with our youth. They’re smart, but there’s a swing between extremes of apathy and I want to make a difference.
    The process of becoming ourselves. I don’t think it happens anymore. I don’t think there’s a line anymore between childhood and adulthood. The evolution never ends. I think there used to be.
    I like it that you’ve observed people. This is a gift. Everything we learn academically or emotionally makes sense if we observe our surroundings.
    The watcher? The oracle? Raised by gypsies. Do you have a crystal ball? I’d be really impressed if you did. Take care, Simon.

    • No crystal ball here, but I totally agree that there’s something to be said for watching :)
      I feel like you’re right on the mark about it being a necessity for YA to be bright and intelligent and addictive in order to succeed. Quality-wise, you’re right–it’s not a different creature from adult fiction. There’s still the brilliant and bad and the satisfying and the unremarkable, and all the other subjective categories that make up the adult section of the store.

  3. “A tiny, unlicensed anthropologist who was supposed to be doing her English homework.”
    Possibly one of the cutest things I’ve ever imagined. ^__^

  4. I think I write YA because I’m full of admiration for the age group. Being mid to late teens is *hard* and terrifying and exciting; it’s a time of possibilities and dealing with much crap. I think it’s that knife edge existence, when your mind is still open and you think that 30 is old that draws me.

    • Being mid to late teens is *hard* and terrifying and exciting; it’s a time of possibilities and dealing with much crap.
      I think this is such a critical point. I love to think about the ways upheavals happen before we’ve really learned how to deal with them, and how it shapes the way we look at the world and how intense everything is–it makes for such drama on the page :D

  5. Thanks to you I’ve read some good and fun YA over the last couple years, but have yet to give it a real go in writing. I’m intimidated by teenagers. There, I said it. I don’t know if this is residual insecurity from high school, but I’m genuinely afraid that if I write YA, the teens will all roil against me screaming–“OH! You can totally tell she’s an ADULT!”

    • I think about that all the time, Syl! And then I say to myself: Self, the whole point of this exercise is not to sound like a teenager, but to sound like what it’s like to be a teenager. And you should be able to do that, self, because you’ve already been a teenager.
      Sometimes, I even manage to listen.

  6. Pingback: This Is Not a Story About Boredom | Brenna Yovanoff

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