Tag Archives: Young Adult Fiction

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Scary Authors, Twitter Essays and Claire’s Imaginary Reads

Keep Calm and Read YA

Young Adult author A.S. King has had her share of criticism for the mature subject matter of her novels. She posted the article Who’s Afraid of A.S. King?  on her blog, Here’s Me Using the Word Blog in a Sentence.  King asks if it is the content itself that disturbs her critics: the cursing, the sex, violence, death, abuse, drugs, alcohol, or bullying that offends them, or rather if it simply that she chooses to explore the topics in novels designed for teen readers.   Quite wonderfully, she explains the importance of writing about the concepts, choices and consequences that teens face rather than hiding it, to which we say, write on, King, write on.

Twitter’s First Immigration Essay

Last week, author Teju Cole published a 4000 word essay on the American immigration system and its injustices… on Twitter. Cole told BuzzFeed that the he chose Twitter for the medium of the essay because a serious topic written about in a serious essay doesn’t have to be printed out in a serious major magazine.  Teju Cole continued, “I just feel so strongly that there’s an audience here, and audience that deserves to be treated with the same seriousness as the paper crowd”.  We love the idea of exploring new methods and mediums for getting a good story or idea out, and if you haven’t yet, “A Piece Of The Wall” is well worth the read.

Claire Underwood’s Bookshelf

Claire Underwood, the captivating, incisive leading woman of Netflix’s House of Cards, probably has amazing literary tastes.  Since she’s fictional, we probably won’t ever have a full understanding of what her favourite authors and to-be-read list would consist of, but that hasn’t stopped Book Riot contributer Wallace Yovetich from supposing the front runners of her book collection.  Of course, he’s got to be right on the money with Sun Tzu’s Art of War, and Machiavelli’s The Prince, but I bet you could find Slaughterhouse Five and The Bell Jar on her nightstand as well.

The Giver Is Finally Here

Or at least its trailer is anyways. The long awaited movie adaptation of Lois Lowry’s The Giver is well on its way, starring a strange and wonderful cast, including Meryl Streep (of several Oscar winning performances) , Jeff Bridges (of The Big Lebowski), Alexander Skarsgård (of True Blood) and Taylor Swift (of pop-country music that inevitably gets stuck in your head). The dystopian story of the boy chosen to bear the memories of his society is set to open in theatres August 15, 2014.


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Don’t Panic!: 5 Tips for Parents about Young Adult Fiction

catching fire
credit: Carissa Rogers

On Monday, the TODAY show drew attention to the wildly popular Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, posing the question: Should parents let their children feed on The Hunger Games?  “-or any of the dark, disturbing young adult fiction now crowding bookshelves?”.

The article above goes on to discuss how “content is more frightening and gory than ever” how impressionable youth are, and even speculation that Collins must “have issues” to write such a violent, dystopian trilogy.  What should parents do about their children reading such things?

This is certainly not the first time YA fiction has come under fire from concerned parents (or school boards, child health practitioners, religious groups, literary critics, or book sellers), but concern isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Censoring, or limiting access to books based on subjective opinions?   That may be going too far.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with parent or guardian being concerned about what their child reads (or watches, plays, listens to, ingests, etc.) Since we all want children and teenagers to grow into healthy, well-adjusted adults, the question isn’t should we be concerned, the question is:

What does a parent do with that concern?

Before we talk about mandating a  rating system for young adult fiction books or discrediting authors by reducing their creativity to a deranged mental state, let’s talk about a few helpful first steps:

1.  Remember your high school reading list.

If you believe that young adult content is getting darker or more gruesome, take a moment to consider the required reading from your school days:  To Kill a Mockingbird Lord of the fliesCatcher in the Rye.  Beloved. Any thing by Shakespeare. Racism, sex, loss of innocence, drinking, murder, savagery and colourful language. Lots of colourful language.  This isn’t meant to equate the literature of Toni Morrison to today’s dystopian teen reading, but it is to say that serious or dark content is not new to the eyes of young adult readers.

2.  Read it (or at least read about it).

If you’re concerned about a specific young adult novel, the best way to understand exactly what its about, is to simply to read the book yourself. If you lack the time to do so, try Google.  You’ll be sure to find a few reviews to give you the gist of the story, and a better grasp on its content.

3.  Accept the young adult realities.

Teens and preteens are confronted with larger issues than a high school dance or failing a math test, more often than we would like to believe.  Sex, drug use, prejudice, bullying, violence, eating disorders, depression, poverty and crime are just a few of the scary subjects that they are already familiar with.  Not every teen or preteen directly experiences these issues, but sheltering them from other perspectives is not the answer… which leads us to the next point:

4.  Talk about what they read.  

This is one of the suggestions the TODAY Show got right. Engage with your kids about their book selection.  What they like about the novels they choose, their themes, the characters, etc.  If you didn’t like something in the story (provided you read it) tell them, and ask about their opinion on it! Make yourself available to discuss the good, bad, and the ugly about the book with them. Critically thinking about the novels they have read will lead to critical selection of their book choices in the future.

5.  Give kids a little credit.  

Don’t worry about the content of young adult fiction being too difficult for adolescents to understand.  It’s Harry Potter, not Finnegan’s Wake.  Most youth are perfectly able to process the difference between reality and fiction while acknowledging the elements that connect them.  While they understand that the settings of stories like The Hunger Games, Divergent or Ender’s Game are fictional, they can connect on a very real level with the themes of the books, or the emotions of the characters. Fear.  Loneliness.  Confusion.  Hope.  Perseverance.  Resourcefulness.  YA fiction is a great way to identify with these messages and ideas.  Extend to them that opportunity.

Sadly, not all young adult fiction will be well-written, thought provoking or helpful.  Not all books will instill virtues in their readers, or align with your sensibilities, but the solution isn’t restriction or censorship.  It’s asking questions.

6 Tips for Writing Young Adult Fiction

photo credit: Martinak15

photo credit: Martinak15

It should be no surprise that the rules for writing a young adult novel do not differ so much from writing any book.  Write well, write passionately, and write a story you care about.    When it comes to the YA genre, there is an added pressure to follow specific literary trends, dumb things down, or use the slang of today’s youth, for fear of losing the fickle interest of teens and tweens.

Don’t worry about these preconceptions.  Young adult readers want the same things that any readers want: a well written story they can enjoy and relate to.  Here are six little reminders to help you write your YA story.

  1. Complicate things.  Write stories that make readers think.  Write flawed heroes.  Write not-quite-happy endings.  You’re writing young adult fiction, not fairy tales.
  2. Write honestly.  Don’t try to be “hip”.  As soon as you think “what’s cool with kids nowadays?, you need to stop. Take a step backwards.  The story you’re writing should mean something to you- if it doesn’t, chances are that your story will feel forced and inauthentic; something both readers and publishers can sense.
  3. Take risks.  Write in first person.  Write with urgency.  Average 50-80,00 words. Talk about hope.  Consider what’s selling.  These are some of the most talked about guidelines when writing specifically young adult novels, but they don’t define compelling fiction. As mentioned above, write honestly- it’s a risk worth taking.
  4. Write a story, not a sermon.  Teenagers, much like anyone else on the planet, do not enjoy being told what to do. As an author, your job is to write the experience of adolescence, not a lesson plan about it.  This does not mean you have to advocate dangerous activities, but if you want to engage young readers, carefully consider how you include the topics of ill-advised practices and their consequences.
  5. Remember.    The ill-advised practices mentioned above are a part of being a teenager.  Most teens and young adults face larger issues than failing a math test or making the soccer team, and the emotions that go along with them are dynamic.  Slip back into your Converse shoes of yester-year, and get back into your teenage mindset.
  6. Don’t underestimate your readers.   Often, authors are advised to “simplify things” when writing young adult stories.  Has anyone ever looked back on a story and said, I loved it because it was easy to read?  Moreover, teens can be just as capable and often more willing to try and interpret complex social issues.   Refer once more to no. 3: Take risks.

Readers of YA fiction, what advice would you give to writers?  YA writers, what rules do you try and abide by?  Comment below, or tweet us @sumbolacosi.