Now that I’m committed to the writing life, I read many interviews, articles and books about the publishing industry, as well as how-to articles and books aimed at new authors. And it seems that most of them have to do with YA fiction. Well.
A quick definition, for those of you not tuned-in to these genres: (Why would you be, unless you’re a teacher, librarian, or trying to get your fiction published?)
“Middle grade” fiction is written for readers aged 8-12, or thereabouts. Think middle school.
“Young adult” fiction is written for teenagers, aged 12-18-ish. The protagonist is in this age range.
“New adult,” a more recent designation, is written for actual young adults, ages 19-25, with a protagonist in this age range, and deals with typical problems/issues faced by people in this stage of life.
Well, YA fiction is hot, and everyone seems to be writing it. OK—not everybody; my local library still stocks plenty of novels written for adults, with adult protagonists and adult themes—but a random sampling of interviews with literary agents and new authors could lead a writer to believe that writing YA is the thing to do, the key to getting published.
Here’s the thing: I’m sick of teenagers. I taught high school for twenty-six years, and while I became quite fond of some individual teenagers, I don’t want to make that age group the focus of my life again—ever. It’s an interesting, important life phase, but not as interesting as what comes after. I mean really—if you’ve spent much time in the company of teenagers, you can predict pretty accurately the stupid things that they will do on their path to adulthood—a destination that some never reach, alas. The current literary romancing of this awkward, schizophrenic, excuse-making, paranoid, self-centered, peer-obsessed, pimply, sweaty phase of life—I don’t get it.
Don’t get me wrong; from a parent’s and teacher’s point of view, I’m glad that teens have so many high-interest novels to choose from, because it’s a struggle to get many of them to read, absorbed as they are with less-demanding forms of entertainment: movies, TV, internet, blogs, podcasts, manga, comics… None of these requires the intense brain involvement that is required by a novel. Most of our teens’ thinking and imagining is already done for them by modern entertainment media, and too few teens are inclined to think critically without prodding. So writers like Walter Dean Myers, who make readers of non-readers, are heroes in my estimation. YA novels are a gateway drug to adult novels.
But here’s the thing: I’m not a teenager. I’ve learned so much since then that I have no wish to return to that limited point of view. To tell the truth, I’m most interested in people my own age, but I think the best stories are populated with characters of diverse ages. My current protagonist is around my age, and the main conflict is between her and her young-adult (not teens, twenties) daughter. The other characters range in age from six to seventy-five. That’s what real life is like: communities made up of diverse ages. It’s the nature of teens to focus intently on their age group, but with maturity comes an understanding of the value of people of other ages. Teens alone just aren’t that interesting to anyone but teens.