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Why Young Adult?

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I wanted to revisit the topic of “Why Young Adult?” since it’s a question I get asked so frequently.  Why write YA?  Why read it?  What’s the appeal, especially with adult readers?

Most YA authors are not young adults themselves, nor are a good percentage of young adult readers.  But consider the adult fiction alternatives–genre fiction like romance, mystery, or suspense that often follow a general pattern, or literary fiction, which, let’s face it, can be depressing or ponderous or plodding at times.

Regarding genre fiction, when I use the word “pattern,” I don’t mean that in a derogatory fashion (trust me, I was an adult romance author for a decade–I have full respect for the genre and its authors!).  But the romance genre comes with certain expectations–most are written in third-person-past, usually alternating between the hero’s and heroine’s POV.  Hero and heroine meet (or become reacquainted).  Attraction grows, but obstacles pop up to keep them apart.  Eventually–and most importantly–the novel ends with a happily-ever-after for the main couple.

Mysteries and thrillers follow similar patterns, as well (though I’m less familiar with them).  A murder/crime is committed.  Our protagonist sets out to solve it.  Red herrings are tossed into the mix.  In the end, the murder/mystery is satisfactorily solved.  These are the basic expectations that readers bring to these genres–write a historical romance where the hero dies tragically at the end and, well…you’ll have some very angry readers to deal with.  Besides, it’s not really a romance  by definition, even if the love story is the primary plot thread.  Leave a murder unsolved at the end of a mystery, and I’m pretty sure that mystery readers will throw the book against the wall.

But with young adult novels, there isn’t necessarily a pattern.  Both first- and third-person past are utilized, as well as first-person present.  Some YAs use a single POV, others alternate between two, and still others use several.  Unlike a romance or mystery, readers don’t know exactly what to expect–a happy ending, a tragic ending, or something in between.  Some YA novels are, in effect, romances with happily-ever-after endings.  Others aren’t.  I read a lovely realistic fiction debut just yesterday, one with a strong romantic plot throughout.  But at the end, the young couple did not end up together.  Their relationship did play an important, integral role in the protagonist’s character arc, but the hopeful, satisfying ending didn’t include a happy end to the relationship.  Last year, I read a very popular dystopian where the protagonist’s love interest was–taking me completely by surprise–killed at the end.

This is why I enjoy writing YA.  I like to write romance, but I’m not a plotter.  I don’t like to know the end of the story before I begin it.  I’m not exactly sure how a relationship is going to pan out as I’m writing it.  As a writer, I like that uncertainty.

Sometimes I like that uncertainty as a reader, too.  Not always, but sometimes.  When I’m reading a romance, I basically know how it’s going to end.  I’m reading for the journey–unraveling the mystery of how the author is going to get from point A to point z.

But with YA?  It’s anything goes.  That’s the thrill of it, for a writer and a reader.

Another thing I love about writing and reading YA?  The fact that everything the characters are going through–the emotions they’re feeling–are fresh and raw and new in a way that they can only be for a young, inexperienced person.  There’s something so powerful, so alluring about first loves, about discovering who you are and what kind of person you want to be.  When I write adult romance, there’s a powerful pull to make the heroine’s experience with the hero somehow special, transcending all other relationships they’ve experienced in the past.  She might have been in love before, but not like this.  And the hero is generally sexually experienced, but none of those experiences were like this one.  It’s a challenge that I don’t have to face when writing YA, because for the teen characters, it is their first love, or their first sexual experience.  And anyone who remembers being a teen knows that those feelings can be all-consuming in a way that they can never be for an adult who has the added responsibilities that come with adulthood (like, you know…having a career, or being a duke!).

Many adult YA readers like to revisit those feelings of firsts…first love, first heartbreak, first discovery of sexuality, etc.

So…why YA?  Why not?

Kristi’s YA debut, HAVEN, was released by Simon Pulse in Feb. 2011. She also writes adult fiction (historical romance) as Kristina Cook and Kristi Astor. Visit her online at www.kristi-cook.com.

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