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?