I read a lot of YA fiction. There are several reasons for this – I’m a young adult myself, so it’s aimed at people like me and generally appeals, too, and I write YA fiction, so I have to know what’s already out there.
Plus, a lot of it is pretty damn awesome.
Anyone who thinks that Young Adult books are just ‘watered down’ versions of adult books are completely and utterly wrong. Not only do they deal with different issues – for example, not many sixteen-year-olds have experienced redundancy and massive debt and mortgage problems, but they’re probably going to be struggling with school and relationships – but they also often tackle things that adult books shy away from, using young protagonists to expose aspects of society like racism, crime and the like, without being seen as trying to make a political point.
Personally, it’s usually the more fantastical side of the genre that I go for, the mythology and the fantasy and the science fiction, but even then there is often a lot about, well, relationships and school.
And YA books are often very, very dark. I’m not just talking about dystopia or books about drugs or hate crimes or things designed to shock. Ever read ‘Tithe’, by Holly Black? I first read that when I was about twelve, despite the ‘Warning: adult content’ on the back of my sister’s copy (she was at university, and didn’t know I’d borrowed it). And yes, I was probably too young, though it doesn’t seem to have done me any lasting damage. Or has it? Maybe that’s why I’m so evil to my characters…
Tithe is a book based on various aspects of Celtic mythology and the idea of the fairies or the sidhe. But as the title suggests, it deals with the idea of sacrifice, and these fairies aren’t the pretty music loving type that you’ll find in Kate Thompson’s “The New Policeman”, but the steal-your-children-and-eat-them-muah-ha-ha-evil-fey type.
In fact, along with Maggie Stiefvater’s ‘Lament’ and ‘Ballad’ (also about homicidal fairies), I think Tithe has been one of the biggest influences on my writing. Not that The New Policeman wasn’t. That got me into the fairies in the first place. It’s just mine aren’t nice.
Often, a book aimed at teenagers can be enough to reduce me to tears in the way that I’ve never experienced with adult books, though I’ve read plenty. Oh, wait, that’s not quite true – I cried at a part of ‘My Sister’s Keeper’, although it was a scene slap bang in the middle and not the ending as one might expect. Aside from that, I don’t tend to cry at adult books.
But with all the dark, twisted YA that there is out there – much of it insanely good – there is another side of the genre that many people sometimes forget exists.
I recently finished a trilogy by Scott Westerfeld that started with ‘Leviathan’, continued in ‘Behemoth’ and finished with ‘Goliath’, which my local library kindly bought at my request. I got to be the first person to read it. That always makes me happy… the books are just so clean.
It’s a steampunk adventure story, to put it simply. Though there is the very beginning of romance in the first book, it builds up so gradually before finally reaching its climax in the third book that we don’t feel it’s imposed upon us. In fact, Scott Westerfeld has got to be one of the only authors that’s ever made me care about a love story as more than just a subplot, even though there was so much going on in the books besides it. I spent most of book two going, “Oh, just REALISE, for goodness sake!”, and much of book three thinking, “Come on, just make out, we’ve waited this long…”
And I was very pleased with how the books ended, though it was a far happier ending than the ones I’m known to enjoy.
Adventure stories are great, because you can sit down and really enjoy them. Really just lose yourself and get excited. There’s none of this ‘thinking’ business, nothing to make you sit back and look at the book, horrified, before deciding to read on. They don’t make you cry (well, not usually, though I’ll confess that I cried at A Darkling Plain by Philip Reeve, as I’m a pathetic idiot). They’re there to enjoy.
I want to write one. I don’t think I’ll be very good at it. But I loved Scott Westerfeld’s trilogy so much – and they were books that I would happily give to my dad to read without worrying about what he’d think of ‘these books you’re reading, Miriam’. (Maybe not to my mum, they’d be too scary for her!) They were books I’d share with people of any age, because younger kids would look up to Deryn and Alek, teenagers would symapthise with their challenges, and parents would be impressed by the blending of historical fiction and steampunk fantasy, and also probably nostalgic for youth.
These are books that were fun to read. They didn’t patronise, they didn’t feel low-brow, they didn’t make me feel embarrassed about what I was reading in public (as so many light-hearted books do). But I had a good time romping through the 500-odd pages of that final volume.
And so I felt moved to say to you today – adventure stories are great. Write more of them. Sure, so a bit of dark, twisted YA will always go down well, but sometimes we needed something a bit more fun.