by: Joelle Charbonneau
I have to admit that I never intended to write a young adult book. I knew lots of authors who wrote for kids. I thought their work was great, but I never thought I'd have a story idea that fell into the young adult category. Since my first young adult thriller, The Testing, was published just over a month ago, I proved myself wrong.
My mistaken assumptions about the young adult genre were part of the reason for this twist of writing fate. First, I assumed that the young adult genre was the same as when I was a young adult. (Which for those keeping score wasn’t all THAT long ago.) Second, I assumed that the voice required for writing young adult books needed to be just that—young.
Turns out I was wrong on both accounts. No, the young adult genre isn’t merely comprised of Sweet Valley High books with a few Christopher Pike novels thrown in for good measure. (Okay, maybe I’m older than I want to admit!) Yes, some of the contemporary young adult books out there are filled with pop culture references and other teen slang that I’m not familiar with. However, what I didn’t realize is unlike adult genre novels that have very specific categories and rules that govern them, young adult has only one rule: a teen must be at the heart of the story.
It’s as simple as that.
In adult fiction, the publisher is concerned about where a book is shelved. Is it a mystery? A thriller? Is it science fiction or romance? In young adult, they don’t separate books into categories the same way. The books are young adult. Period. Which is why you find science fiction/thriller/romances or Fantasy/romance/mysteries topping the young adult charts.
In my opinion, that mash-up of genres is the reason that so many authors have found joy in writing for the young adult marketplace. Anything goes. Young adult books (or books targeted for the ages of 12, 13, 14 and up) can have violence or strong, they can contain sex and provocative themes. Anything that is allowed in the adult marketplace is allowed in teen books—as long as it is believable teen journey.
And teens aren’t the only ones reading these books. Studies done have shown that adults are reading young adult books in droves. Quite possibly this is because so many of the titles now available transcend the adult genre fiction rules. Because the young adult marketplace reaches such a broad audience, it’s not a surprise that almost every publishing house has multiple imprints to accommodate their young adult titles. Huge sections of bookstores are now devoted to “teen” literature and a great number of those bookstores have relocated their teen sections away from the children’s picture books in order to make them more adult friendly.
Which takes me to the point of this little chat. YA fiction isn't young. It isn't simplistic. In fact, the work I was doing this week on my new YA project involved a lot of math calculations to make sure I didn't screw up the world building. The young adult fiction category doesn't mean that the story is uncomplicated or less violent--THE TESTING trilogy books are the most violent books I've ever written. Young adult fiction is a category that is growing every day because it appeals to readers of all ages. At least, that is my guess. And maybe you can help me prove that to be true. I'd love to conduct a very unscientific survey. Please let me know in the comments if you've read a book that features a teen protagonist sometime in the last year and whether you fall into the under 20 or over 20 crowd. Let's see how wide the appeal of young adult fiction is with our DSD audience. Most of you are crime fiction lovers...lets see how far your reading has taken you.