Writing fiction for Young Adults

With startling regularity these days, the mainstream media publishes essays on young adult fiction, generally debating the question of whether or not YA is too mature or “dark” to be read by young adults. Recently, two more essays joined this growing body of opinion: Maria Tatar’s piece in the New York Times, “No More Adventures in Wonderland”; and Brian McGreevy’s post at Salon.com, “Why Teens Should Read Adult Fiction.”

I react to these kinds of essays with a mixture of resignation and indignation, because generally they’re characterized by a glaring blindness on the part of the authors. Most of the people who write these essays don’t seem to have much of any familiarity with today’s young adult book market. They tend to base their conclusions on personal experience of the dated kind: what they read when they were teens (usually 20-30 years ago), and how today’s bestsellers (typically Twilight or The Hunger Games) compare. Usually, The Hunger Games is more cold-bloodedly violent, and Twilight is a bad example for girls.

I absolutely agree. This debate about YA’s qualities or lack thereof is clearly a way for adults to express their anxiety about adolescence today: whether it’s coming on too soon, whether it’s ending too quickly. The world in general seems to be an increasingly brutal place, not only in real terms (the war in Afghanistan, uprisings in the Middle East, etc.) but in virtual ones as well (the American entertainment industry contributes substantially via everything from crass TV to first-person shooter video games).

Books have traditionally been seen as “good for you, ” and I think that the commercialization of young adult fiction — pushed by the success of the Harry Potter series, Twilight, and, yes, The Hunger Games — strikes a certain kind of terror in the hearts of the predominantly upper middle-class literary types who eat up these articles. If the books (which are supposed to be virtuous and moral) are going to hell, what’s next?

As a writer of young adult novels, I’m sometimes amused by the fear that these articles seem to express. Books: So powerful! So influential — possibly in horrible ways! And yet, of course they can be. That’s why they’re so wonderful.

On the other hand, these articles often express a snobbery about YA that is a bit more difficult to brush off. YA books: So trashy! So poorly written! So simplistic! Though yes, of course that can be true, too.

Nick Kohlschreiber

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