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Tag Archives: YA fiction

Why I Write Young Adult Fiction

“Since it is so likely that (children/teens) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.” –C.S. Lewis

Beware: Spoilers for Allegiant, The Fault in Our Stars, and possibly Lord of the Flies and the Harry Potter series (but if you haven’t read or at least know the ending to those last two…please come out from under that rock pronto).

Like many others, I was excited to get my hands on Allegiant, the final book in the wildly popular Divergent series. I loved book one, tentatively liked book two, and looked forward to the last installment.

allegiant

All to my utter and complete disappointment.

Allegiant and subsequently its author, Veronica Roth (who, for the rest of this will be known as VRoth) failed readers on so many levels, but more than anything it/she failed a generation of teen readers who are looking for a new brand of hope.

See, when an author writes a book they can’t just willy-nilly send it out into the world. They must keep in mind that their words have the power to shape and affect people. An author, especially someone with a huge readership, has a responsibility to their readers. They must offer hope within the pages of their book or it’s a pointless waste of time for the author and more so, the reader.

Author William Faulkner said in his acceptance speech for his Nobel Prize, “The writer’s duty is to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.”

Does there have to be an “and they lived happily ever after” ending? Absolutely not. Suzanne Collins’s (author of The Hunger Games series) editor put it best when she said that young adult books don’t need a happy ending, but in the end, there must be “a window left open”—a way where we can see that the characters we’ve grown to love can move on from tragedy.

There must be hope.

Teens today are growing up in a far different world than the one I grew up in (and I’m not that old). I’m of the Harry Potter generation. The books of my youth were stories of teens that could rise up and save the world. My generation was the one told that if we go to college and work hard then we’ll get good jobs and we can accomplish anything. I’m the generation just in front of today’s teens—and the teens of today have watched as the bottom dropped out of my generation’s lives. Where going to college hasn’t landed many of my friends a job, instead it has left them drowning in debt. Where many parents are divorced and a significant amount of people I know have watched their family home seized by forecloser.

Teens today have grown up watching this all unravel. For all of the aware part of their lives, our country has been at war. Think about that. They don’t know of an America not at war. Polls show that their vision of success is very different than my teen generation (which is only ten years ago). Today’s teen sees success not as owning a home, graduating college, having a family, or starting a business, instead the number one measure of success in recent polls showed them wanting to be debt free “at some point in life.” That’s it.

Contemporary teens aren’t looking for books about teens saving the world. They only ask for the small hope of saving their small corner of it. So popular books for this generation are ones that in the end show that in the midst of a messed up world, you can find your own peace/hope, even if it’s just between you and one other person.

Fiction has always been meant to combat the reality of life. VRoth failed us here. She didn’t show us what could be possible. Instead she smacked us in the face with what is. And we don’t need that. Because we’ve all dealt with more than enough loss and hardship and heartbreak. We don’t need books that repeat what we live every single day, we need books that show us that in the midst of a heartbreak world, we can find our own little pod of happiness/joy. That just because the world we live in is going to pot, doesn’t mean we have to lose hope.

Whatever her purpose, VRoth showed teens with Allegiant one horrible thing: their life, their struggles, their fight for right…none of it matters in the end. Which leaves teens asking: what’s the point? If nothing I’m working for matters…why try? I know that’s not the message she meant to send, but when an author is careless with their responsibility to readers, this is the kind of thing that can happen.

I’ll admit I spent a good amount of time reading Amazon reviews for Allegiant in order to see if I was the only one left disillusioned. I wasn’t. Sadly, I’m in the majority with the one star reviews.

Most of the five star reviews I read were people who applauded VRoth on her bravery in “giving a realistic ending.” To this I say: there is a whole genre dedicated to realism. If you want stories that make you feel like someone has stabbed your heart on the last page with no chance for recovery, then feel free to read that genre. But for the ninety-five percent of people that read for enjoyment and escapism, sorry, we want some glimmer of a happy ending. If the Divergent series was meant to belong in the realism genre then it was marketed terribly because right now, all we have are broken promises to readers.

Also, even within realism, hope is usually the end game.fault

Take the book The Fault in Our Stars which falls in the realism genre, the teens in the story who fall in love both have terminal cancer. In the end of the book (I said there were spoilers…) Augustus dies. Why weren’t readers rioting over that? Because a promise wasn’t broken—when they picked up the book they knew they were going to read a story about dying teens so a teen dying at the end of the book was something they were braced for, if not expecting.

Even still, The Fault in Our Stars ends with hope. Hazel realizes that although Augustus has died, her love for him doesn’t have to. Death doesn’t have to change the definition of relationships. My grandfather, who is deceased, is still my grandfather because I’m living and can claim him as such. The last line of the book is in present tense whereas the rest of the book was in past tense. Meaning life goes on. This is a hopeful message.

VRoth killed her main character which is just hard to do well, especially in young adult fiction. Unless the author brings the character back after death (like Harry Potter), a theme/point is better demonstrated through killing a beloved secondary character like Augustus in The Fault in Our Stars or Piggy in Lord of the Flies (how’s that for old school). Otherwise, just save it for realism or adult fiction. Period.

All of this spurs me on to write the young adult stories that keep running around in my head—the ones full of turmoil and struggles and hurt, but all of which are covered in and end with “an open window” one that blatantly leads my readers to hope.

Jess

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Currently Reading: The Selection

Confession. I haven’t gotten much sleep this week. And I can’t even blame it on being pregnant. Nope. It’s all author Kiera Cass’s fault because I just couldn’t put down her debut novel, The Selection.

 

So, they always tell you don’t judge a book by its cover, but, let’s face it, we do. Well, at least I do. This book jumped into my hands based on cover alone. I mean, let’s be serious, who doesn’t want that dress? If I had it I’d wear it every day. Like, even to cook dinner and sitting at my desk writing or to clean the bathroom.

Great part? The back cover description didn’t disappoint. Here’s what it says:

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself—and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

Delicious, no?

Dystopia threads are a dime a dozen these days but this one is refreshingly different. This one isn’t about a starving, poor teen who has lost at least one if not both of their parents. No, America Singer comes from a happy family and enjoys her life. Sure, she doesn’t live extravagantly and has even been hungry. The Singers never have enough, but America likes her life. There isn’t an evil leader killing of their own people, in fact, the royals seem downright nice.

I’m sick of love stories where the hero/heroine are both ready to drop everything in their life for each other in point seven seconds of meeting one another. The romance in The Selection felt genuine and had a hero worth falling for. America is a level headed, well-grounded teen. And we get to witness both her and Maxon healing realistically instead of not dealing with their issues or getting over their problems in ten seconds.

Speaking of Prince Maxon. Yes, please. I was pleasantly surprised to find that he’s not the typical cardboard-cut-out prince. Maxon is strong, smart, humble, kind, and beyond caring. It’s delightful to see a Young Adult book where a hero is treating the heroine respectfully in a loving relationship. He doesn’t try to control her (Twilight *cough*), nor is he a total push-over. He listens to her and he’s changed just as much as she is by their friendship.

The other male lead (love triangle, folks…welcome to YA fiction) is a very typical first-love, high schoolish-type boy. I honestly can’t see why anyone would root for Aspen but I’m sure his fangirls are out there. He shows a very immature version of love. It’s all physical and completely ego-driven. He doesn’t seem to care about the danger he places America in when they go against rules. And he places his feelings far above hers. We’re told there’s a spark between Aspen and America, but for the life of me, I never saw it while reading. Whereas every scene between America and Maxon sizzled with humor, trust, conversation, and wit.

If you’re looking for the next action packed dystopia adventure, this is not the book for you. But if you read Hunger Games and found yourself wishing there was more romance (like…if you wish the whole book was mostly Peeta and Katniss in the cave), pick up The Selection. This is a fun read. Don’t expect spellbinding writing or amazing dialogue. I’d put this book in the deliciously indulgent category. And know what? That’s the category I go back to for all the books I reread over and over again.

This book has already been picked up by the CW for a new show and I’m chomping at the bit to find out when the pilot will air. Many of the actors have already been cast. I’ve already pre-ordered The Elite (book two) to my Kindle and it doesn’t even come out until next April! The wait is killing me already…

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If I find a YA book or romance book that is to die for, I’ll share the details. My author friends even stop by!