Every year when I begin teaching a commercial fiction class for adults, I have at least one student who, when we start discussing Young Adult/Teen fiction, asks something to the effect of “YA fiction is just dumbed down writing, right?” I can’t tell you how disheartening this YA fiction stereotype is. Let me state it boldly for the record:
Young Adult fiction is NOT “regular” fiction simply “dumbed down” (or simplified) for teen readers.
I wish I didn’t have to write a post about this particular YA fiction stereotype, but unfortunately, I think it’s necessary. I’ll say it loud and clear: if you think that teen readers can only “comprehend” simplified, basic prose, then you should not be writing young adult fiction.
Believe it or not, teen readers are some of the most sophisticated readers out there. Keep in mind that, unlike most adults, they are regularly reading “literature,” courtesy of…you know…school. Austen, Shakespeare, Joyce, Kafka, Hemingway…they’re reading it. They have to. And trust me, they are far more familiar with complicated prose, metaphors, similes, and other literary devices than most adults. I mean, when was the last time you sat down and read James Joyce for fun?!
So throw away the notion that teens won’t “get” sophisticated prose.
But that isn’t to say that all YA fiction is complicated, “literary” prose. Just like fiction targeting adult audiences, there is a range in writing styles in YA fiction. Yes, some YA novels are pretty simplistic (Twilight, anyone?). Sometimes it’s a matter of voice–the way a protagonist speaks and thinks. But other YA novels feature more “complicated” prose and literary devices. One great example is Maggie Stievater’s fabulous The Scorpio Races–in fact, I would say that all of Stievater’s books feature some beautiful prose. Other good examples are Carrie Ryan’s Forest of Hands and Teeth series, Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, and Ruta Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray. Anything by John Green or David Levithan feature sophisticated, often lyrical prose, as well.
Just like adult fiction, young adult fiction offers a range of novels from pure commercial to award-winning literature, but none of it is “dumbed down.” To suggest that it is is an insult to YA readers and writers alike. Time to kick this YA fiction stereotype to the curb.
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.