“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
― Madeleine L’Engle
What I am about to say has been written many times before, and most likely by authors who are more profound and articulate. But I nevertheless feel called to write a short ode to the beauty and wonder that is YA (young adult) fiction.
First, I want to read books with a good story and interesting characters. Of course, any genre can fit into this category. But I have found that a lot of YA just does this really well. It seems to be a very competitive field, and thus many of the stories are rich and emotional and satisfying. These authors are at the top of their game. Speaking of authors, these YA writers are just so – YOUNG. I mean, early twenties – maybe younger. I am closer to 40 than 30 (eeek) and just starting my own writing journey. To be able to write stories like they do – at such a young age – well, I am simply blown away by the talent that is out there.
Ultimately, YA speaks to me so loudly and clearly for one reason: I was once a young child who loved to read. I started reading at the age of 3, and never stopped. Especially between the ages of 7 and 12, I read constantly. I did not play with dolls. I did not particulary enjoy playing with kids my age. I was not a hermit exactly – I just did not enjoy what they enjoyed. Instead of spending my time playing with other kids, I turned inward and lived inside my own head. I became absorbed in stories, and fell in love with characters who were not so different from me. I grew up with Judy Blume. To this day, the best Christmas present I ever received was from an aunt I did not really know. But this aunt gave me a set of four Judy Blume books, and I will always be grateful for that, and for her. I read one book after another after another. And when I ran out of books, my mother or father would take me to the library to borrow more. I could not get enough. There were so many worlds to discover, so many fascinating characters to fall in love with.
Even as a teenager, I craved a good story to escape the world. I was not terribly popular, I was not “cool” and I felt out of place in middle school and high school. And yes, there were times I was bullied – and this was back in the day when bullying was just a part of life. The media did not talk about it, and there were no posters lining the school walls encouraging us to love everyone. Just when I thought I couldn’t get out of bed and face another day, I cracked open a book and read about someone just like me – someone smart, and sensitive, and faced with challenges every single day – someone who has cried herself to sleep more times than she can count. I become their friend and cheered them on. And they cheered me on, too. They helped me to survive just one more day, and then another.
And suddenly, I was amazed to discover I survived the teenage years. I was in college, and realized that the things that seperated us when we were younger were just not that important anymore. I bonded with people over our shared love of literature, and writing, and history. I become close friends with my roommate and classmates. We stayed up all night studying for finals, and talked about life over coffee and bagels. And yes, we drank -a lot -and laughed and loved and grew up together.
And then I become an adult, but did not actually feel like a grown up. I was faced with bills and mortgages and responsibilities. I found that special someone and got married and birthed a beautiful baby girl. I had a busy, full time job, with little time just for me. But then something amazing happened. My daughter got a little older, and my spouse got a hobby, and I realized that it’s ok – no, it’s crucial – that I have a “thing” too.
So, I thought about what I used to love. I remembered what kept me up all night and busy every day. I recalled my obsessions. What did I love most of all? Reading.
I enjoy many genres, and have read plenty of books written for adults. But I always go back to YA. For me, nothing else can compare. Yes, I enjoy the plots, and the conflicts, and the wonderful writing. But most of all, I can relate to these characters – these wonderful, flawed, perfect characters – and I realize that even though I no longer struggle with teenage problems, I remember these problems so well. They shaped who I am today. These authors have done something amazing and miraculous: they have poured their hearts out to the world so we, the readers, can understand that we are never alone.
So on behalf of other readers out there, young and old, I thank you, the author of YA, for helping us grow up and helping us realize that we are not so different after all.