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Why YA? (And What Is It, Anyway?)

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IN THE BEGINNING

 

Every creation myth, as Joanna Russ^^i^^ told us, has to explain how death and suffering came into the world. This one is no different. It involves a girl. Call her Susan. Picture 15-year-old Susan walking home from school on a hot sticky afternoon in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1965.

It’s not a normal day. Dissatisfaction gnaws down deep inside her gut, but that’s not the abnormal part. Dissatisfaction is the birthright of all 15-year olds. An unhappy home life? The endless boredom of high school with no future ahead? Friends who might not really be friends? Yeah. She knows all about that.

And grownups? Grownups don’t know anything. They slog through their shallow, fearful routines, and it’s like they’re barely alive. Work, worry, collapse, sleep. Get up tomorrow and do it again. Why? It doesn’t make sense.

Nothing does.

When those boys in their wheat jeans and smart madras shirts pulled up where the boy was walking and jumped out of that pretty red convertible—“Hey, grease! Where do you think you’re going…?”

He never had a chance.

But even that’s not the abnormal part, because stuff like that has happened before on the East Side of Tulsa, and no one does anything about it. She’s no greaser herself. She’s a good girl, with friends from both sides of the tracks, a tomboy who plays football with the boys and loves horses. And reading. She loves to read. But today, when she hears about the boy who got jumped, something snaps, and dissatisfaction and righteous anger boil over into something that doesn’t have a name. Fury? Outrage? Nothing quite does it justice.

And so when she gets home, she begins writing it all down—the secret life of these kids who no one ever notices except to condemn and criticize, the casual brutality of their lives, their deaths. She writes in a blur, pounding it out. All of it. She’ll tell it all.

And that’s what makes today different. That’s why it’s not a normal day.

 

  • * *

 

S.E. Hinton began writing The Outsiders when she was fifteen and continued working on the novel all through her junior year of high school. It was published in 1967 when she was only eighteen. If we’re looking for a watershed moment to mark the beginning of modern young adult literature, The Outsiders will do nicely. Sure, there had been books for kids before, but they mostly they were aimed at younger children, and honestly? They were pretty bland. Predictable stories and clichéd, cookie-cutter characters. Sports stories for boys and chaste romantic fantasies for girls. Helping mom with the baking and the washing, learning to sew so she can make her very own dress for the prom. Even the books that broke that mode did it in very safe ways. Nancy Drew may have been a detective, but she was also attractive, well-mannered, rich and smart. She had no need to rail against the world. The world treated her very nicely, thank you very much.

Of course, there were other books to read. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, to name a few. Many of these books became popular with teen readers, but they weren’t written specifically for that audience. (Neither, it could be argued, was The Outsiders, but only because nobody had thought of it before.) An adult, after all, could relate to Holden Caulfield or Francy Nolan, despite being years removed from the experiences of youth. But realistic fiction about real life conflicts, written specifically for a teenage audience? That didn’t exist before 1967.

And The Outsiders was not an immediate hit as a drugstore paperback, but it sold remarkably well with one particular market: teachers. High school teachers were using it in their classrooms.

It was the first time publishers had ever considered the idea that there was a special, separate market for young adult literature.

 

  • * *

 

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p<>{color:#000;}. FACT: In the 49 years since publication, The Outsiders has sold 13 million copies^^ii^^. Just to put that in perspective, that’s more than The Exorcist, more than The Giver, more than The Cat in the Hat.

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p<>{color:#000;}. ANOTHER FACT: According to a poll of librarians, The Outsiders is the most commonly stolen book from American libraries. I love that fact.^^iii^^

 

THE PROBLEM NOVEL

 

 

The Outsiders eventually became a hit for Viking Press. Publishers had found a profitable new vein to mine, and they were now on the lookout for books to satisfy this previously unsuspected market. It is no coincidence that the next ten years saw a flood of what came to be known as “young adult” novels: Go Ask Alice in 1971; The Chocolate Wars in ’74; and a whole stream of novels from one woman in particular whose name would become virtually synonymous with young adult literature.

Born in 1938, Judy Blume didn’t publish her first novel until 1969, two years after The Outsiders. After that came Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret (1970), Then Again Maybe I Won’t (‘71), Deenie (‘73), Forever (‘75) among others. It seems likely she must have read S.E. Hinton’s book (though I have yet to confirm that) but the two women’s styles are markedly different. Blume’s books are quieter, more suburban, more concerned with the problems of “average” kids: a first menstrual period, bullying, wet dreams and unwanted erections, parental divorce, shoplifting, teen sex. It was all handled with extreme delicacy, but since nobody else had ever handled these issues in a kid’s book before, they got a lot of attention.

All of these books share elements of what has traditionally been called the “coming of age” story, a literary form that goes back at least 3000 years. Homer devotes the first four books of The Odyssey to Odysseus’ son Telemachus, who journeys from the safety of his home on Ithaca in search of his long, lost father, setting the pattern for future coming of age stories: a youth, spurred by circumstances beyond his control, goes forth into the world, leaving the innocence of childhood in order to seek something he (yes, almost always he) cannot find at home—answers, justice, fortune, independence. In some cases it’s nothing more than restlessness. In others, it’s nothing less than a quest, usually unasked for, and always with unforeseen consequences.

If all of this seems drearily familiar, it’s because literature has given us so many examples: Great Expectations, Huckleberry Finn, A Separate Peace, The Catcher in the Rye, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The list could go on and on. And while some of these (To Kill A Mockingbird, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, Little Women) have become associated with young adult literature, they weren’t written for kids.

One distinction that might be useful is that nearly all coming of age novels end with the protagonist having achieved maturity (hence the term “coming of age.”) This can mean different things. To Kill a Mockingbird covers the time period in Scout’s life between the ages of six and nine, but it’s told from the perspective of Scout as a grownup, looking back.

Two notable books, Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye, break with this pattern, but both are pretty atypical coming-of-age novels. Huck, who is all of fourteen when the novel ends, remains the naïve observer throughout, allowing Twain to comment on society in a way that is both controversial and disarming at the same time. Sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield changes very little during the three days we spend with him in Catcher in the Rye. You could argue that all he really learns is that the adult world is full of fakes and phonies, and that he’d rather not grow up, or “come of age,” at all.

 

  • * *

 

Many of the young adult novels of the 1970’s (Judy Blume’s in particular) are sometimes referred to today as “problem novels,”^^iv^^ a reductive label which seems to suggest that the whole purpose of the book is to explore some particular teen issue, resolve it, then move on, problem solved. In these books, the protagonist is not grown up by the end of the novel, and the books are certainly not told from an adult perspective. Obviously, for books aimed at kids, this makes a lot of sense. There is learning, there is growth, but not completion. Not maturity.

It’s worth mentioning that all of these books share something else in common. All of them—The Chocolate Wars, Harriet the Spy, Go Ask Alice, all of Judy Blume’s young adult novels—have been banned and challenged repeatedly by local libraries and school districts since they came out. It may seem odd to us today that an innocent tale like Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret could have been regarded as “profane, immoral and offensive.”^^v^^

But viewed in another way, there was something subversive about all of these books. These authors were doing something that had never been done before: they were talking about real things, serious things, in kids books. Some, like Hinton, were gritty. Others, like Blume, were more delicate. But they all took an honest, realistic look at things that kids really cared about, were confused about, were angry about.

Small wonder they were banned.

Small wonder kids ate them up.

 

  • * *

 

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p<>{color:#000;}. NOTE: I’d be remiss if I didn’t say something here about Louise Fitzhugh’s book Harriet the Spy, if only because it actually came out in 1964, three years before The Outsiders. Harriet is a fantastic book and a true outlier. The themes (popularity, shaming, alienation, honesty) are timeless, and the whole story has a gritty tone that gets downright nasty in places. In short, it was way ahead of its time. The realistic portrayal of just how harsh kids can be to each other still reads as groundbreaking. (For what it’s worth, I’ll still cling to my choice of The Outsiders as the first modern work of YA literature. Harriet the Spy got some attention—Judy Blume mentions it as an inspiration—but it never created the stir that The Outsiders did.)

 

THERE’S A MOUNTAIN TROLL IN THE BATHROOM

 

No doubt some of you were beginning to wonder if I was ever going to get to it. Yes, there is a four million pound elephant in the room, and when it jumps, it’s going to set off a tidal wave unlike anything else we’ve seen before. It will cover the earth, swamp all of our preconceptions, toppling some boats, lifting others.

As of this writing, it has been a mere 19 years since J.K. Rowling unleashed her skinny, wand-wielding misfit on the world, but the history of YA literature is effectively fractured by that event. We have a pre-Potter world, and a post-Potter world, and one can scarcely recognize one world when viewed from the other.

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p<>{color:#000;}. At 13 million copies, The Outsiders, was a landmark and a perennial bestseller.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has sold over 107 million copies.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Before 1997, YA books were absent from the New York Times bestseller’s list.

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p<>{color:#000;}. In 2000, the NYT created a separate bestseller list for YA because the Harry Potter books had been monopolizing the top slots of the regular fiction list for 79 straight weeks.

 

For those of you born before 1990, it may be hard to remember just how remarkable the whole Potter-mania thing was. Folks would gather at midnight, lining up outside bookstores wearing costumes, waiting for the official release of the next installment. For the first time, a book release was greeted with the enthusiasm of a blockbuster movie or a concert by a major rock star. And it wasn’t just girls. Boys were reading them, too, in unprecedented numbers.

Nor was it only kids, and that might have been the most remarkable change of all. It was the first time that a book written for a juvenile audience became a bona fide hit with adult readers. It wasn’t anything strange to see a 40-year old man on the subway, unabashed, reading The Prisoner of Azkaban or The Goblet of Fire.

Harry Potter made YA cool.

And the number of former non-readers who became Harry Potter fans?

Yeah. Harry Potter made reading itself cool.

Certainly we can all thank JK Rowling for that.

But why did it happen? What made this series of books such an unprecedented success? Wizards were certainly nothing new. We all knew Merlin from the King Arthur legend and Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings. In fact, they were already clichés, with pointed hats and long white beards, magic wands and animal familiars (all tropes that Rowling herself made use of). Even schools for wizards had been done before. Diane Duane’s So You Want To Be A Wizard series was already four books deep by the time Harry came along. Ursula LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea (featuring the wizard school on the island of Roke) was published in 1968.

Rowling’s writing is solid but unspectacular.^^vi^^ She can be clunky and obvious at times, and she used certain constructions and phrases over and over again (how often do Draco’s “cronies” “guffaw?”) When you get right down to it, she created very little that was actually new. The reluctant hero with the weight of unwanted responsibility on his shoulders; the wise bearded mentor; the super-villain twisted by his own ambition into an inhuman monster—these are all very familiar. The parade of magical creatures are lifted straight from a medieval bestiary, and the trappings of Hogwarts could have come from the prop room of any B-grade ghost story movie.

But when you look at it another way, J.K. Rowling did everything right. If the writing is less than amazing, it’s still clear and engaging, perfectly suited to telling such a long and complicated story. And truth be told, most readers prefer plain writing over fanciful. And the themes she explored, even if not especially original, were honed and shaped in inventive ways that were guaranteed to appeal to young readers. Consider:

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p<>{color:#000;}. Harry is not the hapless child with the horrendous guardians we think we are meeting in Chapter Two. His real parents are cool and rich and they loved him.

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p<>{color:#000;}. He is destined to be magical and powerful.

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p<>{color:#000;}. He’s going to live in a place where he, just by virtue of who he is, is going to have true friends and be popular.

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p<>{color:#000;}. There is a purpose to his life that is vitally important and that only he can accomplish.

 

Very appealing, indeed. With all that, the fact that he also gets to be the hero of the school sports team is just icing on the treacle tart.

 

  • * *

 

Tidal waves rarely happen without consequences. It’s only to be expected that an upheaval on the scale of Harry Potter would bring backlash waves and aftershocks and leave a lot of debris washing around.

Mostly what it brought was imitations—a sudden glut of paranormal YA fiction as would-be Rowlings tried to latch on and find the next supernatural gimmick. Magical creatures became standard equipment: elementals and animagi, shape shifters, werewolves, vision questers, time-travelers, elves and fairies (pardon me, fae folk.) Magical academies sprang up everywhere, and if you didn’t have a mystical quest to complete, you were a poor specimen of protagonist indeed, certainly not worthy of your own five-book series. (Always a series. The standalone YA novel looked in danger of extinction there for a while.) It didn’t hurt that the post-Rowling wave coincided with the rise of self-publishing. Overnight, the fantasy of writing and publishing your own novels became a reality (of a sort), and everybody was taking their shot.

 

  • * *

 

Including me.

In case anyone wonders what would cause a middle-aged man who’d rarely written more than the occasional letter to suddenly decide to write a 400-page novel for young adults and spend over a year trying to get it published, well, that’s easy:

I was seduced. Like so many others, I heard the compelling siren song of the Potter and thought, why not me? I remember the moment vividly. We were driving back from a family vacation, kids in car, a hot day, listening to a book on tape (A Horse And His Boy. CS Lewis). All at once, the idea hit me: I could write something like this. Harry Potter was such a huge success. There was clearly a market for YA fiction. Why not?

Ignoring the obvious answers to that question, I began shaping a story in my head. By the time I got home, I had enough to begin taking notes and sketch out the beginnings of an outline. A few weeks later, I began writing the first draft. It took me about five months to finish it—over 100,000 words in two battered, spiral bound notebooks—a tale of ancient Crete, Minoan times before Christ, before Zeus even, a girl, a quest, a mystery.

Draft two went into the word processor. For another three months or so, I plucked and prodded, honed, polished. Then, when it was burnished it to a high sheen, I decided it was time to find an agent.

That’s when the dream deflated, rudely, like a sputtering balloon. I’ll spare you the details of that particular year—query letters, synopses, an endless parade of “thanks, but no thanks” replies—it’s a familiar story.

That book and its sequel are still sitting on the virtual shelf, waiting for the day when I figure out what to do with them. Because after a year of trying, it became obvious that my three-thousand-year-old epic of the warrior girl with second sight just wasn’t gibing with the YA buying public. Or at least with the literary agents who claimed to know what the public wanted.

So I wrote something else.

 

SO WHAT IS “YA,” ANYWAY?

 

This, really, is the central question of this whole essay, but there’s no easy answer. Amazon.com categorizes it as a genre, but there are problems with that. Every other genre—mystery, sci fi, western, romance, etc—indicates a type of story. The young adult label seems to identify a type of reader. And YA books can also be mysteries, or sci fi, or westerns, or romances. It is an inclusive category rather than a restrictive one. The closest parallel would be the category “literary fiction,” which also doesn’t specify anything about the story but rather something about the quality of the writing. But while literary fiction suggests a serious work of art, YA doesn’t suggest anything at all. It could be The Book Thief. It could be Miss Magix School for Wayward Witches (and, yes, I just made that up.)

Flux Books, a notable publisher of YA fiction uses as its motto: “Where Young Adult is a Point of View, not a reading level.” It’s an appealing notion, but it doesn’t really help, because everywhere an author goes, she’s confronted with the same question: what genre is your book? And it’s not negotiable. Most of those website dropdown lists force you to choose one. Your book can be either YA or paranormal, either YA or romance. They assume YA is a monolithic category sharing a common readership.

And that just isn’t true.

But let's push that question aside and go back to our original question: What is YA, anyway? Most people assume that books categorized as YA are aimed at teenage readers. Simple enough. But a 2012 study from Publishers Weekly found that 55 percent of YA buyers were 18 and older, with the largest segment of buyers (28 percent) between the ages of 30 and 44. And 78% of those surveyed indicated that they were buying the books for their own reading, not as gifts. ^^vii^^ Conversely, a sizeable number of teen readers do not restrict themselves to YA. A seventeen or eighteen year old is just as likely to be reading The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo as Mockingjay. Or both.

The whole notion that teens need special treatment seems to be based on the assumption that kids are too delicate to deal with harsh topics and “bad” language—or that they will be unduly affected by all of these “bad” influences. Both assumptions feel hopelessly quaint. Stephen Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower deals with childhood sexual abuse. Lauren Myracle’s Shine is about homophobic hate crimes and crystal meth addiction. Veronica Roth’s Divergent includes scenes of murder, suicide, and attempted rape. And yet, all of these are popular, mainstream books marketed as YA.

While critics often blame the crass and callous nature of our modern times for the popularity of such books, the fact is, dark gritty subjects told in a straightforward, realistic way have always had a lot of appeal for young readers. The biggest difference is that before The Outsiders, such books weren’t available.^^viii^^

 

  • * *

 

When I began this essay, I said that every creation myth has to explain how death and suffering came into the world. That wasn’t said lightly. Death and suffering aren’t the only themes worth writing about, but they are central to our experience as humans. Which is why kids want to read about them. And why they should.

At the risk of saying the most obvious thing ever, adolescence is a time of emotional turmoil. Teens live with the same insecurities we all do, only magnified manyfold. Am I liked? Am I normal? What do people really think of me? These are the core questions of childhood. Looming adulthood is frightening. Sex is terrifying. Life is getting very real, very fast, and it is fraught with dangers. Kids get bullied. Kids get beaten up. Kids get raped. They even get killed. As their social circle expands, kids are more likely to come into contact with peers who do drugs, peers who have promiscuous sex, peers who harm themselves or take self-destructive risks. It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that kids would be fascinated by books that explore these subjects.

And that is a good thing. It isn’t necessary (thank goodness) to have suffered rape and the social ostracism it can cause to relate to the protagonist of Speak. It isn’t necessary to have endured poverty and bullying and racial bigotry to relate to the protagonist of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. If a book has the feeling of truth about it (and yes, that can mean including profanity and racial slurs and dangerous behaviors; and no, that isn’t always the same thing as glamourizing such things), then it will resonate with readers. There’s hateful stuff in some of these books and a lot of pain, but without that, they’d lose realism. They’d lose poignancy.

In short, they wouldn’t be real. And they wouldn’t be read.

 

  • * *

 

When I abandoned my epic Minoan trilogy, it was with one simple idea: I needed a foot in the door—something a little more familiar to the modern YA book-buyer—something, dare I say it, a little more commercial. If this sounds mercenary, it was also practical. If I could get into print, gain some credentials, they maybe I could also get my beautiful epic published.

It was to be an educational five years.

I had no plan, really. I knew I wanted to keep writing YA. Or, more accurately, all of my story ideas involved young adults as protagonists:

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p<>{color:#000;}. A sixteen-year old boy who’s trying to write a novel discovers that a nearly identical novel was already written years ago by someone he’s never heard of, and there’s a strange connection between this unknown author and himself. (Fold Along the Dotted Line)

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p<>{color:#000;}. A teenage girl is befriended by a sentient fleck of stardust, who leads her (and her pals) into a strange and menacing parallel world. (Spark)

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p<>{color:#000;}. A disaffected, disconnected high school girl finds herself a member of a secret society of carpet-flying misfits. (Flight of the Wren)

 

If you’re seeing a pattern in all of this, you aren’t wrong: all teenage protagonists, all driven by impossible, supernatural events. That wasn’t part of my mercenary scheme. I was writing the stories that interested me the most, and of course I became thoroughly absorbed with each book and put everything I had into them. But I wouldn’t blame anyone for assuming I was just trying to jump on the bandwagon. YA paranormal was (and is) very much in vogue. And to some extent, it worked. A few years later, Spark was published by Lycaon Press, followed shortly thereafter by Flight of the Wren.^^ix^^

When asked to identify the genre of my books, I usually say “young adult,” but I’ve never been entirely comfortable with that label. While they are very different from each other, both books are oddities and misfits.^^x^^ I hope that works in their favor as far as being enjoyable and unusual, but I think it hinders them in the marketplace. Agents and marketers often ask you to compare your book to other books (“…like The Hunger Games meets The Fault in Our Stars!”) and I am always at a loss trying answer that question. Are there other YA books out there like mine? For that matter, are mine even YA?

I have no idea.

Does it matter? It doesn’t seem to matter that much to readers.

(Marketers? Yeah it matters a lot to them. I’ve written a lot more about the whole messy business of book marketing on my blog at www.atthysgage.com.)

But I’ve accepted the YA label, because while part of me rankles at what seems like the limitations of that pigeonhole, the genre itself has no limits. I know perfectly well why I like having young protagonists, and it comes down to this: no one feels pain more intensely that a young person. No one feels delight, sadness, exuberance, despair, or passion more intensely than a young person. Never in our lives is friendship more important or more tenuous. Never is injustice felt more acutely. Never is triumph sweeter. Never are we more vulnerable, more determined, more lost, more convinced.

Everything matters. Everything is vital.

What, for a writer, could be more compelling than that?

 

SO WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

 

I confess, after all of this, I haven’t reached any sort of decision about what is YA and what isn’t. The definition seems to dodge about depending on the book. Tom Sawyer is YA but Huck Finn isn’t. Shine^^xi^^ is, but Lord of the Flies? Not so much. The Kite Runner doesn’t qualify, presumably because the protagonist becomes a grown-up halfway through the book, but then why not Bastard Out of Carolina? Why not Peace Like a River?

There are no easy answers. Everyone has his own basis for judgment. And maybe, ultimately, it really doesn’t matter. Ignore the gurus of marketing! Write what you want to write, and who cares what genre you call it.

That’s a nice idea. And really, do we have any other choice? Write like maniacs trying to capitalize on the latest trend before it fades? Wrack our brains trying to think up the next big thing? I had a friend who went to a writer’s conference in 2005, and was assured by all of the literary agents present that “vampires were over.”

Yeah. This was just a few months before Twilight was published.

No one saw Harry Potter coming. Or The Hunger Games.

Could anybody have anticipated the success of The Book Thief? Or Sophie’s World? Or A Wrinkle in Time? —books so outside the mainstream that to this day, they defy easy categorization?

I’ve done my share of reading on the subject of book promotion and marketing, and always the message is the same: find your genre, locate readers of that genre, give them more of what they want. But the pattern I see running through this brief survey of YA literature is that successful novels often come not from trend spotting or a calculated appraisal of what the public wants, but from works that no one anticipated—books that startled us, if not by their shockingly new subject matter, then by treating the familiar in a fresh and original way.

If you’re an author, you want to write—not because you expect to make a lot of money (unless you’re delusional) but because you love books and admire great writing and want to create some of your own. And that’s a much better place to start from. Write something new, something you can be proud of years down the road no matter which way the trends go.

Worry about selling it later.

NOTES

(I hope you enjoyed this little essay. No doubt I’ve left out somebody’s favorites. If you want to go to bat for Anne of Green Gables or Little House on the Prairie or something else entirely, I’m ready to listen. I can be found at http://www.atthysgage.com . Thanks for reading.)

 

i This observation comes from the story “Nobody’s Home,” featured in the collection The Zanzibar Cat by Joanna Russ (1984). Alas, it seems to be out of print.

 

ii https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_books This list is, by its very nature, out of date and hard to verify, but it at least gives us some basis for comparison.

 

iii In case anyone misunderstands, I don’t condone stealing books from libraries. In this age where so few kids (and adults) even want books, there’s something vaguely satisfying about teens swiping The Outsiders, but no, kids, don’t do it, because it’s not cool and libraries have enough problems. Okay? Okay.

 

iv I doubt that these so called “problem novels” would have enduring appeal if they weren’t fully-realized stories with sympathetic characters dealing with the kinds of issues everyone faces growing up.

 

v http://www.deletecensorship.org/are_you_there_god.html

 

vi First, before anyone accuses me of being anti-Rowling: no, I’m not. I read Harry Potter (more than once), saw the movies, listened to the audio versions (admirably performed by Jim Dale.) So obviously I’m a fan. But is she a great writer? No, not in my opinion. She’s fine. I know a lot of people list her as a favorite writer, but I think what people love is the story and the characters (as I do), not the writing per se. And that’s fine too. There are writers we love because the writing knocks us out, but there are also books we love just because the story is good. I know that distinction doesn’t matter that much to most folk and that also is fine. The Outsiders isn’t all that well-written either (though for a sixteen year old, it’s amazing). Again, it’s the story and the characters that make it stick in the mind, and that’s a hell of an accomplishment for anyone of any age.

 

vii [+ http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/53937-new-study-55-of-ya-books-bought-by-adults.html+]

 

viii One of the earliest purveyors of dark fiction for teens was Robert Cormier. His book The Chocolate War (1974), portrays acts of brutality and cruelty by a secret society at an all-boy’s high school. After The First Death (1979) begins with a group of terrorists hijacking a summer camp bus full of school-age children. The Bumblebee Flies Anyway (1983) is about a kid who lives in a hospital where experimental drugs are tested on terminal patients. Robert Cormier wasn’t fooling around!

 

ix Followed, even more quickly, by the closing of Lycaon Press (I take no blame) and my subsequent independent publication of both books.

 

x And judging from some of the reviews they’ve gotten, I’m not the only one who feels that way: “I am trying to think of the best genre to which this book belongs…” “…definitely different from your typical young adult novel…” “…if you’re looking for the typical YA romance that always seems to occur, you’ll have to look elsewhere…”).

 

xi [+ http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/30/fashion/lauren-myracle-calling-it-as-she-sees-it.html?r=0+] The debate on _Shine is ongoing, highly contentious, and worth reading about.


Why YA? (And What Is It, Anyway?)

The year 1967 saw the publication of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, arguably the first book of serious literature for young adult readers. The author was barely 18 years old. Since then, YA has exploded into one of the largest markets in fiction with tens of thousands of new titles published every year. But how did it all get started? How has it grown? And what the heck is it anyway? For anyone who has written or wants to write (or just enjoys) YA literature, this brief, 20 page essay offers a fresh perspective on the past, present and future of a publishing phenomenon.

  • Author: Atthys Gage
  • Published: 2016-07-08 19:40:07
  • Words: 5286
Why YA? (And What Is It, Anyway?) Why YA? (And What Is It, Anyway?)