YA Past, Present, Future

on December 3, 2009

At present, Young Adult titles are hot. Hot, hot, hot. Have you been in a bookstore lately? (Yes, dumb question for this group!) The YA section is bigger than the Romance section and the Mystery/Thriller section at my Borders, and wonderfully laid out. Bigger in floor space, but not titles . . . but close. And you want to spend time in the YA section because it’s a bit roomier, has more freestanding displays, and the books are more artfully arranged.

I’ve been trying to get my #2 daughter, Kelly, to blog for me. But when I thought of it tonight (I do procrastinate and wait until the last minute on oh, so many things. . . ) she was already in bed reading. I’ll try to give her enough warning before my next blog, because she has some very interesting insights into YA books. When I say Kelly is an avid reader, I’m not joking. She’s in honors English and has to read 1800 pages by the end of the year. She read over 1800 pages in the first QUARTER. And that does not include the books she had to read for class.

The reason I’m so interested in YA is because Kelly is an avid reader and bringing YA books into the house. I know a lot of adults who read YA, but I’m not one of them. Not because I don’t want to, but because I don’t have time to read all the books I HAVE to read, followed by the authors I WANT to read when they come out. I’m still two books behind in the JD Robb series, and that’s practically a sacrilege because I buy them in hardcover. Preorder them because I have to have them right when they come out.

But, there have been a few I’ve picked up off her shelf and started reading and not wanted to put it down. Neal Shusterman, for example. He draws the reader in, YA or adult, immediately.

I started thinking about what was available specifically for the YA audience when I was growing up, and honestly? Not much. By the time I was Kelly’s age (13) I had moved pretty much into the adult book market. Stephen King, for example. I read a lot of mysteries because my mom had a lot of mysteries on her shelves. Ed McBain and Joseph Wambaugh, for example, were standard fare. I (cough) read all my mom’s Danielle Steele some of which were less appropriate for me than others 🙂 . . . and the big 80s glitzy books like Judith Krantz and Jackie Collins. I know, so not me, but when you read a lot and can’t afford to buy books and your mother has this huge library, you start working your way through it . . .

When I was a pre-teen and younger, there was Judy Blume and Paula Danzinger and Lois Duncan, and of course Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew. Fabulous books, though mostly outdated now (though I saw at Borders a reissue of FOREVER with a new cover.) That was probably the raciest “YA” book I read. What I loved about Judy Blume, though, was that she dealt with pre-teen issues. Fatherless daughters, starting your period, weight, and more.

There were of course fantasy and science fiction which is not specifically YA, but appealing to most of us in the 70s and early 80s, like Robert Heinlein and C.S. Lewis and Tolkein, which I read as a freshman in high school. But when I look back on my childhood reading, there was no true transition. No “YA” targeted market like there is today.

Poor us. Because I look at Kelly’s bookshelf and I’m damn jealous! Where were these stories when I was growing up?

Kelly has always been a reader, but it was THE SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS that I think was the turning point for her. For Christmas, right before she turned nine, I bought her the first three books of the series. She devoured them. I got her the rest for her ninth birthday, and she lamented that she had to wait for #12 to come out that October, then another 9-12 months before the last book came out. By that time, she’d outgrown the series, but Lemony Snickett? THANK YOU! Luke is up next (if I can get Kelly to let him borrow her books. She is incredibly anal about her books–considering her clothes are all over her room, her bookshelves are pristine. What’s with that?)

I bought A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY for my oldest daughter, the one who doesn’t love to read. (I did find some books she loved–Jax Abbott/Alesia Holliday now Alyssa Day’s SUPER 16 books; Gena Showalter’s teenage alien huntress series; and RL Stine’s Fear Street. So if you have a 11-14 year old who doesn’t love to read, try those. Katie is now nearly 16 and only reads if she has to. Sigh. I swear, she IS my daughter.)

So Katie didn’t read it, but Kelly picked it up one day and started it. Loved it. The second book was out by that time, and she had to wait for the third, THE SWEET FAR THING, which she said was the best. She recently finished Libba Bray’s GOING BOVINE, a contemporary story about a boy with mad cow disease. She could not put it down.

And of course she read the TWILIGHT series. Again, I bought TWILIGHT for Katie, thinking she’d like it. She read the cover copy and said, “This is about vampires. Yuck.” (Okay, I’m picking on Katie, I know, but she’s not shallow. She dreaded summer reading for school, but once she started FAHRENHEIT 451 she was hooked and we had some great discussions about that book. Katie likes books to be to the point, fast-paced, and action filled. She gives the author three pages. Kelly doesn’t mind detail and description. She gives an author 100 pages, and then figures if she’s already invested that much time she’ll finish the book. Katie likes contemporary; Kelly will read anything, but has an affinity for historicals. Like, she’s read the LUXE series.)

Kelly is now reviewing YA books for RT Book Reviews. When she got the ARC for SHADOWLAND by Alyson Noel you’d have thought she’d won the lottery. The sheer joy and excitement on her face, the fact that she finds books she can not put down, reminds me of when I loved to read. (BTW, she “discovered” Alyson Noel before EVERMORE came out. I bought one of her books because I’d met and liked her, and gave it . . . again . . . to Katie who didn’t read it, but Kelly loved it. So she was anticipating EVERMORE before it because a hit.)

Don’t get me wrong–I still love to read. But since I’ve been published, my reading time is limited, and I find that I don’t risk my reading time. I read the tried and true authors, writers I know won’t let me down. Before I was published, if I started a book, I finished it. ALWAYS. Now? I give the author about three chapters. If I put it down and think, ho hum, I don’t care, I’ll never pick it up because I have far too many books to read–books I have to read (galleys for blurbs, the Thriller Award entries) that I’m not going to waste my time on something that doesn’t hold my interest. But I used to read every day. I read fast, and I’d read 2-3 books a week. I’m lucky to read one book a month for pleasure–solely because I want to read the book.

There is not a day that goes by that Kelly isn’t reading something. She can’t go to sleep without reading first. Over the weekend she finished BALLAD by Maggie Stiefvater (she loved it). Tonight, it’s EVERWILD by Neal Shusterman. She’ll be done by the weekend, then she has about ten books to choose from, all that have been released in the last few months. (BTW, Kelly created her first fan book trailer for Shusterman’s book UNWIND which she says is one of her all-time favorite books. He posted it to his website, isn’t that cool?)

We didn’t have those kind of choices when I was growing up. The authors we did have targeting the teenage market were fantastic, but there weren’t many. Now? Exploding and getting bigger every day.

I’d thought it might be a fad for awhile. The huge success of HARRY POTTER and TWILIGHT, among others, would go by the wayside after those kids grew up . . . but . . . it hasn’t.

New readers are coming in and excited by the choices, and authors are responding.

I always tell people DON’T WRITE TO THE MARKET. Write what you love, otherwise there will be no passion in your work. It’s not a secret that I started getting burned out writing romantic suspense. I didn’t want that, because I love romantic suspense. But after 12 books in a row, I was burning to write something different, and since my Seven Deadly Sins series had been on my mind for six years–and already sold–I itched to write it. I love supernatural stories, and I wanted to write a supernatural thriller, going back to the classic stories I loved growing up. And while ORIGINAL SIN may appeal to the Young Adult market like Stephen King does to some, it’s not a YA book.

Kelly always asks me if I’m going to write a YA. I tell her, if I come up with an idea I love. But I’ve listened to her talk about the books she reads, and one thing she doesn’t like is when an adult author changes and writes YA and talks down to the reader, dumps down the book, or doesn’t “sound” like a YA author. Voice is important in every book, but doubly important in YA. And thus, I don’t think I have a YA voice. I said that to her tonight, and she said, “Well, if you write something, I’ll tell you whether it’s any good. I’ll critique it. Harshly.” I told her she could read ORIGINAL SIN, but now I’m scared.

But . . . I’ve been thinking about it lately because Kelly talks about her books all the time. What WOULD I write if I wrote a YA series? One of the themes I’ve always loved to read was about Utopian societies (which are all really dystopias in disguise, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog.) Kelly read THE GIVER by Lois Lowry in school this year, which is a classic “utopian” society. I won’t say that’s what I WOULD write, but it’s close–a near future or alternate future “urban fantasy”/dystopian society with a teenage protagonist. Yes, it’s being done a lot now and I have no time. My other love is mysteries, a modern day Nancy Drew–like Veronica Mars meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer or something fun like that. But . . . I’ll never say never. Because I can’t change my voice, and I honestly don’t know if I have a YA voice.

So what is the future of YA? I don’t think it’s peaked in any way. But as with all genres, there is blending all the time. Urban Fantasy is moving into YA, Fantasy and Romance. Paranormal can be in thrillers, and YAs could be divided even more, some moving into adult genres, like romance, or fantasy, or mysteries. I don’t know if we CAN know what’ll happen, but right now I think the exploding YA market is great for the teens of today, and the adult readers of tomorrow.

So as an adult, do you read YA books? If so, why? How do they differ from adult books, or rather, what do they provide that maybe books for the adult market don’t?

Kelly’s UNWIND book trailer (the first trailer she did–the summer before last, when she was 12!). I’ll get her to write a blog soon; I’m sure it’ll be interesting!