Today, I got to have lunch with one of my most favorite authors of all time, Nova Ren Suma. Nova is the author of three beautiful books, Dani Noir, the forthcoming 17 & Gone1, and Imaginary Girls, which is one of two novels that made me say, “Yes. I want to be a young adult writer2.”
I spend a lot of time with writers who are trying to make it, which can start to feel sort of like a race where we are all tripping over each other to get to that hardcover debut first. So it was refreshing to talk to Nova, someone who is already there, and has already done it. She was a light at the end of the tunnel, that I can look at and see that yes, this can work out! It can be done3!
Nova and I talked about many wonderful things, but the thing that made the biggest impact was talking about the stigma attached to YA. I spend so much time around people who understand the appeal of YA that I sometimes forget that there is a judgment attached to it. When I tell people, “I’m studying creative writing.” They say something like, “That’s really cool! What do you write?” Then I say, “Children’s lit.” And they look sort of disappointed. And they say one of three things:
1. Like Twilight? (Or Hunger Games, which is slightly more flattering, but usually Twilight).
2. Well, maybe someday you can write real books.
3. I’ve heard there’s a lot of money in that.
To which, I would like to respond as follows:
1. No, not like Twilight. Or Hunger Games, for that matter. Just because these books have sort of become the face of YA, doesn’t mean they are the only ones. Vampire books and dystopians are such a small part of the industry4. And some of those books are magnificent5. Just because Twilight isn’t per say the greatest piece of literature, does not mean that all young adult books are like that, in the same way that 50 Shades of Grey, though it is the best-selling book of all time, is not the great American novel. Twilight, though popular, is not the pinnacle or the standard or the norm of YA.
2. News flash—young adult books are real books. In fact, sometimes they are more real than so-called adult novels6. In saying that YA books are less than adult books, you are saying that a teenager’s experience in the world is somehow less valid than an adult’s, and so the books about them are less important.
3. Oh, right, because that’s why I’m doing this. Thank you for reminding me.
YA books are some of the most poignant and real books on the shelves. They mirror the teenage experience, where everything is so new and raw and close to the surface and you are so busy creating yourself that you don’t have time to hide behind fancy prose, issues, or inflated sense of self. YA is story, and it is emotion, and in so many cases, it is raw and sharp and brilliant, and it hits you right where you live. YA is comprised of coming of age stories, and anyone can read those and relate to them, because we never stop coming of age.
But, you might say, “Isn’t YA lit written for a younger audience? I think it’s below my reading level.” First of all, reading level is a scam created by school districts to make kids feel bad about themselves. And second of all, contrary to popular belief, YA writers don’t write down to their audience. They don’t dumb down their stories or their prose, because teenagers don’t need that. YA is not a reading level, it’s a genre, and you can read about teenagers even if you’re not one.
If you are a new comer to YA, or if you carry some of the stigmas described above, might I humbly suggest a few not scary YA titles to start with, and some comp adult titles so they are less intimidating. No vampires, or werewolves, or fight to the death arenas. These are the kind of books that will not just change your perspective on YA: they will change your life.
If you liked….
…The DaVinci Code you might like Tokyo Heist by Diana Renn
…The Time Traveler’s Wife you might like Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone
…The Night Circus you might like A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
…Game of Thrones you might like Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
…My Sister’s Keeper you might like The Fault in our Stars by John Green
…Water for Elephants you might like Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet
…Girl with the Dragon Tattoo you might like Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
…The Kite Runner you might like Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman
…Gone Girl you might like I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga
…Something Borrowed you might like Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
- Which I have already read. Because I’m awesome. And other reasons.
- Seriously guys. Imaginary Girls. Read it, and love it, and slobber over the prose like I did.
- Asdflkj. I hope.
- Has anybody written a dystopian about vampires? That feels like a missed opportunity.
- May I introduce you to Feed by MT Anderson?
- I hate calling them adult books because then it sounds like porn.