Monday, November 22, 2010

That's what's great about YA: it is outside the lines!

After a lifetime spent reading and writing fiction meant for adults, I was drawn to YA because it seemed to be located outside the lines of what I was used to. I suspect this is true for a number of newcomers to the genre: when adult literary fiction starts to feel too confining, too intolerant of passion and fantasy, well, you might find that there's more room to explore your vision in literature meant for young adults. YA has become a refuge for the ideas, emotions, and themes that don't quite fit in or aren't quite acceptable in books aimed at older people. The fact that so many adults are reading YA novels shows that it's become a refuge for readers as well!

I have the impression that this is happening in movies, too. So many films for adult audiences offer characters that are so grossly reductive, such caricatures of what human beings can be, that it's a huge relief to watch, say, Where the Wild Things Are or Wall-E. For all their fantasy, many movies for kids take life seriously and struggle to understand it. Has all the moral and emotional depth and complexity moved into art for young people because we actually have greater faith in the maturity of fifteen-year-olds than in that of thirty-five-year-olds?

It's hard to imagine another explanation for some of the best books showing up in the YA section. I'm not sure, for example, that a portrayal of the effects of trauma as unsparing as Mockingjay would be publishable in adult fiction. It would be written into something brighter and bubblier; it would pretend to affirm life by suggesting that life never harms anyone irreparably. But because Mockingjay is for teenagers, it can be honest enough to admit that Katniss and Peeta will never fully recover; that sometimes the best in us shows as much in how we can't heal as it does in our resilience. And in adult fiction, you'd never find a hero as horribly compromised but still utterly sympathetic and admirable as Chaos Walking's Todd Hewitt, either. YA has room for all the emotional extremes, the directness and immediacy and ardor, that rest of fiction seems uncomfortable with.

I'm happy to be blogging with everyone on YA Outside the Lines. My debut novel Lost Voices will be out next July. It's about heartbroken killer mermaids: something that I'm pretty sure would have been way outside the lines if I'd tried to make it a book for grown-ups!

10 comments:

  1. Well said! YA can do/say so many things that other genres can't.

    Happy to come across your blog today~

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  2. You're so right! It seems so obvious, but I'd never really thought about YA being outside the lines itself. Great post!

    (And your upcoming book sounds so cool! Heartbroken killer mermaids? What a tagline!)

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  3. Heartbroken killer mermaids!? Sign me up!

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  4. Thanks for the sweet feedback, everyone. The premise of Lost Voices is that mermaids are those girls who've lost their humanity through trauma, and sink ships to get revenge on human beings...

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  5. You describe exactly why I read and write YA, so I really can't wait to read your book and dude, knowing the premise, I'm even more eager!

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  6. "And in adult fiction, you'd never find a hero as horribly compromised but still utterly sympathetic and admirable as Chaos Walking's Todd Hewitt, either."
    i dont even know why but i just love that line. you put it so perfectly it's scary.

    i love this post :) i wont lie, im an 'inside the box' kind of girl but who says i can't read outside the lines? xDD im definitely looking forward to reading your book! killer mermaids!

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  7. Thank you, Stephanie and Audrey... Stephanie, I was just thinking how cool and intriguing Ballads of Suburbia looks, so can't-wait-to-read back at you!

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  8. Killer mermaids?? And they have had their hearts broken too? Whoa. That's a book I want to read, Sarah! Thanks for writing it.

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