Guest Contributor Michelle Ladner on the Appeal of Reading and Writing Young Adult Literature

Why YA?

I’m in my mid-thirties. I read a lot of different kinds of books. But against the biggest wall of my dining room sits a seven-foot tall by six-foot wide bank of bookshelves. These shelves contain my Young Adult (YA) book collection. Most of them are some type of fantasy. They total three hundred seventy eight and my birthday gift card splurge at “pick-a-bookstore.com” last week has fourteen more on the way. They are a pretty collection to own and I do actually read them—more than two thirds consumed. I am an adult who loves to consume YA books.

I know people who just don’t get it. “Why do you read kids books, aspiring writer lady?” they seem to ask with an eyebrow cocked. I’m not alone in my adoration for YA. It’s a phenomenon. A trend. An undeniable growing market—and the 12 to 18 year olds are not the only ones buying or reading them. I can’t speak to the why of everyone on the bandwagon. But I do have a lot of thoughts on the matter (some of which I will likely not address here).

Not only does the YA novel tap into the bildungsroman that everyone identifies with, but it’s fast, tight storytelling. Solid storytelling. Not every YA novel will fit that bill, but not every adult market novel does, either. Some of the most interesting story concepts and genre blends are emerging in YA. The seams appear to be bursting and the market is, in many ways, wide open.

I think that the market it expanding to accommodate all kinds of reader. Whereas once upon a time, young advanced readers would have to look to the adult section for compelling fantasy, thrillers, or “pick-a-genre,” readers can now look in the YA section and find most of what they are looking for. It’s an exciting time for YA readers. If you scan the shelves and not just the suggested reads or bestsellers table—you can happen upon some pretty diverse stuff.

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It used to be (back when I was a kid in the mid-80s) that girls read Sweet Valley High or BabySitters Club and boys went to the adult fantasy section of the bookstore. At least this was the case in my small neighborhood library and the book section of the local shopping mart. If you were an avid reader like me, you pinched the latest Stephen King or Harlequin Romance from your parents’ work friends when they pitched it in the donation box.

Nowadays, with the big box bookstore, online shopping, e-books and access to Indie booksellers through the web—kids (and their parents’ debit cards) can get their hands on any genre within the YA market to read. Plus, I think publishers have seen the opportunity and potential to grow genre readers from a younger age. Some of our bestselling authors of thrillers, urban fantasy, horror, mystery, romance, are all publishing in YA. Why? If they acquire a young interested reader at thirteen, then they’ve scored a reader for their body of work for life.

It makes sense. And it always has—but it’s only been in the last decade or so that as an industry publishing has understood that young readers have the same needs as older readers. They want diversity. They want strong and complicated worlds and plots. They don’t want a morality tale. You can give them one, but you’d better make the read worth it.

What that does for a reader like me is it opens up an entire market of books that has exactly what I want. Fast, tight reads. Diversity. Complicated worlds and plots. Even gritty content and tough life situations. All in all, great entertaining storytelling. As the YA market blows wide open, I still see the condescension in some people. Why YA? they ask. Because it’s not the YA you read as kid. It’s a whole new world. And if you love a good story for storytelling’s sake, you’re really missing out.

 


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