Last weekend I was ensconced upstairs in the YA loft of our local library, eagerly scanning the shelves for books on my to-read list. My husband came to find me because the library was about to close. He glanced at the cover of Charles de Lint’s Blue Girl with interest. And then he said something dismissive along the lines of, “Eh. But it’s young-adult, right?”
To his credit, he realized his gaffe right away. (If he hadn’t, I’m sure my affronted stare and shocked silence would’ve clued him right in.) Still, I reminded him that I am writing a young-adult book, and I don’t want people treating it with that kind of condescension, assuming that it wouldn’t appeal to them because of where it’s shelved. He apologized.
But the moment served as an eloquent reminder of how much the YA label has changed since we were teenagers. At a Labor Day BBQ, my friends and I had a huge animated conversation about how awesome YA is now. Fifteen years ago (when we were 13 or thereabouts) our options were pretty limited: Sweet Valley High and the Babysitters Club and maybe some Christopher Pike. We graduated ASAP to romances or historical fiction or fantasy. (My bookshelves at the time were a mix of Maeve Binchy, Danielle Steel, and classics like Wuthering Heights. My best friend—a guy—was an ardent fan of Stephen King and Tom Robbins.)
But now! The YA section is fabulously rich. Say what you will about the Twilight series (I have my own strong opinions about some of its themes) but it deserves credit for being compulsively readable. My friends and my sisters and I—-all in our twenties—-gobbled those books up like chocolate-covered crack. It was our gateway drug back into the YA world. Most of us were English majors in college. We still love our Mr. Darcy, and we still read some great literary fiction for our book club. But some of our most passionate discussions lately are about YA books we’ve read and loved and passed along.
I love YA because I think those late-teen years are the start of something fascinating. It’s when we shift and evolve out of our chrysalis of home and family and familiarity. It’s when we first fall in love, when we realize our parents are flawed human beings too, when we tangle with that first taste of freedom. We can make our own choices, and sometimes that means mistakes, but it also means growth.
When I walk into the library or Borders, I immediately aim myself at the YA shelves. I know that I’ll find half a dozen books that I want to dive into. I’ve been compiling a mammoth reading list, but “market research” for my own book is really just an excuse. I’d read these books anyway. As I made my list from the classes of 2k7 and 2k8 and 2009 debutantes and the new 10_ers, it’s been interesting to recognize my own preferences. I tend to prefer female protagonists. I like romance, but not as the absolute focal point. I like stuff that’s a little edgy and has a strong concept, and that often coincides with fantasy. A writer’s blog or a recommendation from an author I like will make me look it up, but my final choices are based on the back-cover blurb or the Amazon synopsis.
For more thoughts on the brilliance that is the YA category, read this.
What about you? What are some of your recent YA faves?