YA – not just for YOUNG adults

I was in the library not that long ago when a friend came in.  “What are you doing looking at THAT section?”  She exclaimed with an expression of horror.  Of course, I was looking at the ‘Teen books’ area, which is right by the door and well across the library from any of the adult books, so I couldn’t even pretend I’d wandered across by accident.  I sputtered for a second then said “Well, I do write this stuff … it’s research, isn’t it?”  She accepted my explanation and pootled off to her own part of the library happy that the English Literature graduate wasn’t REALLY looking for her reading in the teen section.

Well – I lied.

I look for most of my reading in the ‘teen books’ section.  Frankly, it’ isn’t really research – it’s fun.

Yes I do love adult literature (but I veer more commonly towards fantasy and sci-fi than anything else – for example I’m very much looking forward to the new Iain M Banks coming out in paperback or reaching the library ), but I’m generally much more attracted to teen nowadays.  No, I’m not trying to recapture my youth, by placing myself creepily in the role of a skinny, yet vibrantly attractive teen protagonist.  On the whole I just find the writing more interesting, more fun, more … exciting.

I’m a mother with two small children and a writing career to keep on top of, I no longer have time to wade through books that take 200 pages to get to the darn storyline.

Let’s look at this review of the ‘The Sea’ by John Banville.  It was the Booker Prize Winner, it should be selling by the truckload.  But this reviewer calls it ‘laughable’, quoting lines such as the following:

“And yet, what existence, really, does it have, the past? After all, it is only what the present was, once, the present that is gone, no more than that. And yet.”

I had to read just that line two or three times before I was sure what Banville meant.  If I’d tried that in Angel’s Fury, my editor, lovely and delicate as she is, would have hit me upside the head with my own laptop.  As it is, I had quite a lot of pretentious twaddle to excise (at one point I used the descriptive term ‘cerulean memories‘ – Banville’s editor might have left that clunker in but not Philippa). That’s the thing with teen literature you can’t get away with pretentious twaddle.  Most of them won’t put up with it and why should they?  You need to get to the action, you have to keep the story moving and the story has to be full of interest.  Only Stephanie Meyer can get away with a 500 page book in which nothing happens except ‘boy with a bit of a condition meets girl’. The rest of us have to write about real issues, possibly combining them with angels, fairies, reincarnation, nightmares, werewolves, vampires and so on.

I believe this ‘genre’ more than any other has reimagined / reinvented the fairytale.  What else can you describe a book that everyone knows and enjoys but that has a lesson at it’s heart?  Harry Potter, Edward and Bella – they’re new massive cultural icons and as well known as Snow White would once have been.  And these books have universal appeal.  Look at these figures:


“YA is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise bleak publishing market. Where adult hardcover sales were down 17.8% for the first half of 2009 versus the same period in 2008, children’s/young adult hardcovers were up 30.7%.”

via Adults Reading Ya – Young adult lit comes of age – Los Angeles Times.


You know what I did?  I recommended Kathleen Duey’s Skin Hunger to my friend and she loved it.  So maybe I’ll see her in the teenage section herself one day.

  1. I cpuldnt agree with you more. I LOVE YA (which helps, as it is what I am writing). I initially went for the “it’s research,” line, too, but in the end, I didn’t see why I should have been embarrassed, and now happily tell those who want to hear that I thoroughly enjoy a well written YA.

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