Following on from the discussion about attending a YA conference yesterday, this was something we all talked about at Canvey Writers last night: what is the YA novel and how important is it?
We had a wonderful discussion about how the ‘teen’ novel as changed and what the writers are doing now.
So what is the YA novel? Well, loosely something written for the older teens, although as I said yesterday also read largely by adults. Today a lot of these novels, apart from giving voice to this age, often deal with gritty contemporary themes that reflect modern life for them. It was interesting to hear Melvin Burgess talk about some of the reaction he has had to his books; especially books like Junk that deals with drugs, and Doing it about sex. Rachel McIntyre’s debut novel Me and Mr J deals with a girl falling for her teacher. But we also read today about self-harm, suicide, abuse… jolly topics, right? So where do we draw the line?
I am a firm believer that fiction, in its many guises, is a reflection on life and sometimes that means tackling the things once people would not talk about. Books that do this, some with a hard edge, some dark in places, maybe take the reader further than any non-fiction text might. They make the information accessible by allowing the reader to relate to the characters, identify, and sometimes explore things in a different way. Better to read about what happens when you take too many drugs than to actually take them?
So while some might deem it controversial to deal with certain issues; or even have a novel end with the good guys losing, so not always a happy cosy ending, perhaps it is the role of the writer to nudge the reader into asking the right questions — right? There are so many books where good wins, maybe sometimes the reader does need the realistic ending? I think above all when the book generates reaction and questions then it is doing what is intended. What we talked about last night was how we define ‘entertainment’ and what people want from a read. If to escape into happy fantasy then there are many books that do just that and that includes the YA novel — but today these novels very often do deal with the gritty stuff, so are there taboos? My feeling is that we should not censor for the sake of censoring. It’s about telling the good story, and opening this up for discussions.
But what do you think? What YA books do you like/dislike and what do you think about what subject matter we deal with now?
I think writers can get it wrong by thinking they can write for this age because they were once this age. Wrong. Well, yes they were once that age, but the world will have changed a lot since they were. So writing something for YAs now needs to reflect today’s culture and today’s voices. So that means listen… really listen if you want to get it right.
That’s it from me, now to write 🙂 Have a wonderful Tuesday folks!