November 21, 2012

Writing Club Wednesday: YA Then and Now

Hey all you Misfit Followers! It's Wednesday again, which means it's time for more Writing Club. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to talk about this time around. Serious topics always make me slip into teacher mode, and then I start hitting all these boring statistics and facts, and before you know it, I've put you all to sleep... yup, just like that.

Except that when I figured out that I wanted to talk about how YA has changed, I really wanted to talk about it! The Young Adult category has actually been around for a long time - since the 1800's! Did you know that? Yes, I'm talking to you all the way in the back, with your glasses on crooked. Yeah, I bet you did. I didn't, though. In fact, when I started digging around, I found out a lot of things I didn't know. For example, some of the first books to be categorized specifically for young adults were stories like The Swiss Family Robinson and The Count of Monte Cristo, as well as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and The Hobbit.

Ok, well I knew The Hobbit was written by Tolkien for his kids, and Tom Sawyer was clearly directed to a younger audience, but still. The last thing that springs to mind when I think about YA is Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, or Dickens' Oliver Twist. In fact, half the books we read in high school? Yup, you guessed it. Early YA. Catcher in the Rye. To Kill A Mockingbird. The Outsiders.

I know. Blows your mind, right?

You say Young Adult, and I think of Harry Potter. Twilight. Divergent. Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Hunger Games. Beautiful Creatures. Paranormalcy. The Near Witch. Lola and the Boy Next Door. 

You get what I mean. I'm sure you can add a hundred more of your own. I know I could go on all day.

If I had to think of earlier YA books, I might come up with The Giver or Bridge to Terabithia. And then if I think longer, I go to A Wrinkle in Time and The Blue Sword. But honestly, I had to think for a few minutes to come up with those. Because the truth is, the YA category has changed. It’s grown, expanded. Lines that were uncertain before, are very solid now. YA has a voice, a place, where it had a lot of limbo in the past. It was a lot of limbo. YA has grown up, and in the last ten years, it’s really come into its own.

I grew up in the 80s. I know, I'm old. But I read a lot. I read a few books that could be (and probably were) called YA. But nobody really talked about YA as its own thing. There were kids’ books, and there were adults’ books, and there really wasn’t anything in between. Kids’ books were divided into picture books and what my teachers called chapter books. And that was it. You wanted more? Start looking in the adult sections of the library. I remember when I first heard Robin McKinley’s books called YA, and how confused I was. I didn’t see how they were any different from the Adult books I read. And when I went to look for them in the Adult section, where I'd always found them, and they weren't there? Mind. Blown.

YA existed for a long time, but it was kind of the red-headed step-child of publishing. At least, that's how it seemed. As a kid, I read Lois Lowry and Judy Blume and Cynthia Voigt. I also read J.R.R. Tolkien and Roger Zelazny and Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. There didn’t seem to be any middle ground, short of maybe 2 shelves in the library. If you were lucky. And it wasn't labeled 'Young Adult,' either. It said 'Juvenile Fiction.' So there was kid stuff, and there was adult, and, well, as long as I had something to read, I admit that I didn't really care.

But 30 years later, the category is so much bigger, so much stronger, and so much more well defined. It’s like that scrawny little kid you knew growing up, and you move home only to find out he’s turned into a mega-hunk. That’s YA now. The mega-hunk we trip over our shoes staring at, because we can’t believe how well he grew up. We’re oddly proud because we knew him way back when he was getting kicked around on the playground, but really, we just want to have his babies now.

You laugh, but you know I’m right.

I’m enormously proud of what Young Adult has done, and what it has become. As a venue for tackling the hard issues, or for streamlined stories, depth without undue complication, YA is unmatched. It is full of stories about life and learning to live it, about love and discovery and self-discovery, and all the confusion that is life.

I love it, and I love writing it.

And I’m so excited to see where it goes.


Yael said...

Up until recently, I only read YA in my early teens (early 2000s). The most notable difference I can think of is in the romance. Romance was less prominent, and series would oftentimes hold back on the kissing--as in, rather than getting a first kiss on page 150 of Book One, you might have to wait until Book 3 or 4. It made it more exciting that way, since you had 2-3 books of "will they-won't they" tension.

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