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YA Comes of Age

April 25, 2012

I admit it. I stayed up late into the night turning the pages of The Hunger Games. It was deep, dark and addictive. I couldn’t put it down. And yes, I was a little behind the times in reading this gripping story, a post-apocalyptic tale about a teenage girl who fights to survive lethal games televised for sport. It’s been on the New York Times best-seller list for three years and the movie adaptation came out in March.

What makes this unusual for me – it’s a Young Adult (YA) novel and I rarely read YA. Nor do I write it. I admit that YA is not my genre or my forte (women’s/adult fiction), like my co-blogger Gretchen Haertsch, who writes so beautifully for this age group.

I bow to Gretchen and all those writing YA because, like any other genre, it takes some skill.  A bit of research shows that a YA writer has to make sure the protagonist does not have an adult perspective, or does not “look back” and reflect on the emotion or the situation. The character needs to learn, grow and change during the course of the novel from the events she is experiencing in the book.

YA writers especially need to avoid getting preachy. Nobody wants to be taught lessons when they are reading fiction. Never is this truer than in writing for young adults. Teenagers have radar for this, and the voice will feel inauthentic.

YA writers also need to give their readers hopeful endings, despite whatever grim actions may take place, as in “The Hunger Games.” Adult novels often have sad or uncertain endings. YA readers want a sense  they have a choice, and at least a possibility, for hope.

As I said, I am no expert in this genre.  However, any writer worth his or her literary salt needs to be reading every type of novel out there to learn more about the craft.  And for most of my life I’ve focused on adult fiction, failing to see how riveting and compelling YA books can be.  Yes, yes — I did read some of the Potter books and struggled through Twilight, but beyond that, I had relegated YA to a stack of books to be read at another time.

It seems that time is now — and I’m not alone. More and more adults, especially boomers, are peeking between the pages of this genre once relegated to teachers, librarians or parents who wanted to keep an eye on the tastes of young readers.

YA has been so sizzling hot, in fact, that established authors are delving into the genre. Best-selling novelists like James Patterson, John Grisham, Harlan Coben and Candace Bushnell recently released their own young-adult titles. Of course, some, if not a majority of this thrust toward YA  is revenue-driven. In a bleak publishing industry, YA books remain the one bright spot. From 2008-2010, sales of books for children, teens and young adults rose by 12 percent, while sales of adult fiction rose only 3.5 percent.

Obviously, something is driving those sales. So what’s attracting adult readers? Experts say it’s a variety of reasons, from pure escapism to entertainment. YA novels offer budding romances, elaborate settings and well-planned plots. In fact, poll most adults who have read YA and they’ll tell you they prefer young-adult books to adult ones.

As a reader, I am coming late to these wonderful books and don’t want to miss out on future good reads, such as Partial by Dan Wells, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and Fracture by Megan Miranda. It’s odd, but in some ways, I feel like I’ve come full circle, growing up devouring Nancy Drew books. Now, as a boomer, I can’t wait to read the next up-and-coming YA novel.

And I’m not ashamed to admit it, even at my age. After all, a good book is a good book.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 25, 2012 3:33 PM

    Nice to hear your perspective, especially as no one I talk to seems to really know what it is that makes YA as a genre. I recently read this book too, and it’s not like it pulls its punches or anything.

  2. Marielena Zuniga permalink
    April 25, 2012 4:21 PM

    Thanks for your comments, Marie, and for stopping by. As I said, I’m no expert on YA, but certainly the protagonist has to fit a certain age (below 18) and the voice has to be authentic, in other words, no slang or lower-grade vocabulary — the reason I wrote that I bow to Gretchen and those who write this genre.

    I do know, however, that if a story is gripping, I’ll read it. And I do know more adults are buying and reading YA for that reason. Or, perhaps (I should have written in my post) the reason more adults are buying YA is because we want to remain young at heart! 🙂

  3. April 26, 2012 4:08 PM

    As a grown up who never stopped reading YA novels, I can testify that YA novels are quite sophisticated and not at all the poor sister of adult ones. And I don´t say this because I also write them.

  4. Marielena Zuniga permalink
    April 26, 2012 4:30 PM

    Thanks for your comment, Carmen, and for stopping by. I plan to add your YA novel “Two Moon Princess” to my reading list, now that I’ve re-discovered how wonderful YA books are. Much success!

  5. May 31, 2012 2:35 PM

    Thanks for this great post! I agree that writing YA novels takes much talent, and that they are very well done and worth reading! I usually read, and write, women’s fiction. And enjoy reading mysteries. But I read Twilight with my niece one summer and loved it! I then read all the rest in the series, but Twilight was my favorite.

    As a writer, I think about what it takes to write an exceptional YA novel. I am working on a story that I consider Southern women’s fiction, appealing to boomers because it’s about growing up in the 60s in the South. But it possibly could appeal to some of the YA audience. Not sure…

    I had a wonderful librarian tell me once, “A good book is any one you enjoy reading, and never apologize for what you read!” Great advice!


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