What is Young Adult Fiction?

I was at the London Book Fair last Monday and I had the chance to attend a few thought-provoking seminars and to meet a few interesting publishers/writers there. What was obvious to me from what I heard during those meetings/discussion groups is that nobody agrees on what YA literature is/should be.

The American Library Association describes YA fiction as anything someone between the ages of 12-18 chooses to read. It can include different genres: contemporary, historical, paranormal, fantasy, science-fiction, mystery, etc…

However, this definition cannot be definite, for two reasons:

-          people well over 18 read YA books every day

-          you don’t read the same books when you’re 12 and when you’re 18

I remember going to a seminar on YA literature three years ago and the writers invited there all agreed on the fact that you cannot include violence, sex and swearing in a YA book. However the writers who were at the London Book Fair this Monday disagreed with that point of view, stating that older teenagers deserve to have a literature that deals with those more difficult themes.

To my mind, one cannot give a definite characterization of YA literature. But we can attempt to say what YA books always include and what they don’t have to include to be YA books.

What YA fiction NEEDS to include:

-          The journey of a young person who is becoming an adult. Along the way, this character needs to find the answer to the most important question in life: “Who am I and who do I want to become?” In Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, the whole point of the series is to explore what kind of adult Bella will become, regardless of external factors.

-           Choices and their consequences. Growing up is all about finding out things for yourselves and to understand that the choices you make have consequences in the future and for others. The main protagonist in a YA book needs to be faced with interesting choices that will offer the reader an opportunity to reflect on those decisions. Which is why YA books can include violence/sex/difficult themes, as long as the consequences of such behaviors are explained and explored. For example, you can include children turned into killers (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins), forced marriage (Wither by Lauren DeStefano), graphic violence (This Is Not Forgiveness by Celia Rees) and so on.

-          Themes that are relevant to teenagers: friendship, first love, independence, school, religion, racism, parents’ divorce, bullying, teen sex, teen pregnancy, ecology, politics… But YA books can also tackle issues that are not directly based on the lives of teenagers that read them but are nonetheless important because they open their eyes to problems dealt by others in other times (see YA historical and dystopian novels on slavery, witch-hunts, bleak future, etc…) or in other places (see YA contemporary novels on child labor, child soldiers, child trafficking, etc…)

What YA fiction DOESN’T NEED to include:

-          A first-person narrative. Writers! Third-person narrative is fine! The Morganville Vampires series by Rachel Caine is not a first-person narration and it still is a NY Times best-seller.

-          Parents that are dead/gone/out of the picture/bad at parenting in general. The Line by Teri Hall includes a main protagonist with a loving mother, yet she still manages to learn to make her own choices and to become independent.

-          A teenage girl as the main character. Hey, boys are cool too.

-      A school. A boarding school. Details on the main character’s school life. Usually, writers get them wrong, so unless it’s incredibly relevant to the story, don’t bother recreating in details a biology lesson that will sound nothing like an actual biology lesson.

-          A love triangle/An impossible love. A regular love story between just two people can be complicated enough, you know.

-         Vampires and/or werewolves. Characters with superpowers/magic powers in general. Gods. Sirens. Witches. Contemporary novels with regular people sell well too.

-         A bad boy with stalking habits whose heart melts for the main female protagonist. Seriously. Fictional characters deserve more than to be stereotypes.

So what do you think? What is YA fiction according to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

This post was inspired by two excellent blog posts that I suggest you check out:

Defining YA literature http://bookalicious.org/2012/04/ya-101-defining-ya-lit/

The YA Drinking Game http://www.ricklipman.com/drinking-game/

You might also want to read : Campbell’s Scoop: Reflections on Young Adult Literature by Patty Campbell (Scarecrow Press, 2010)

A Round of Words in 80 Days – Check-in #2

So I’ve just finished my first week of ROW80 challenge (I joined in a few days late) and so far it’s going well (although I’ve been told this is often the case for the first week).

For the record, my goals are:

1-      I shall write the first draft of my new dystopian novel with at least 750 words per day.

2-      I shall also self-edit/revise The Last Queen so that I finally have a final draft for it.

And this is what happened this week:

1-      I did write 750 words per day of my new dystopian novel.

2-      I didn’t revise The Last Queen per say but I’ve been reading a book on self-editing (Self-editing for fiction writers by Browne and King) so I still think I’ve worked toward this goal.

As a result: yeah! This challenge is doing me some good.

Here is the Linky for the other check-in posts.

Also, please have a look at my post for today: an exclusive interview with YA Dystopian author Teri Hall on her books and the craft of writing.

How are you other ROW80 writers doing?

Fantastical Intentions – Beginnings

Fantastical Intentions is a feature featuring Hannah and Naithin of Once Upon A Time and Jacob of Drying Ink. They decide on a fantasy related topic and everyone is welcome to join in. If you would like to participate, write a blog post of your own and leave your link in the comments.

This week’s topic is: Beginnings!

My pick is the beginning of The Passage by Justin Cronin.

“Before she became the Girl from Nowhere-the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years-she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy. Amy Harper Bellafonte.”

The Passage is a very long book (almost a 1000 pages) and it’s the first installment in a trilogy. To be honest, it’s not the easiest read in the world despite a great theme and an interesting plot: the story takes a (very) long time to unfold and I thought some editing would have been needed for some parts of the book. That being said, The Passage has one of the best beginnings I’ve read in my life. The first 250 pages are just amazingly gripping and incredibly well written. Entitled “The Worst Dream in the World”, this part 1 of the novel describes how the world comes to an end in less than half an hour.

“It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born.”

This beginning is a race against time and a great introduction of the main characters.

It is an outstanding example of what a beginning should be in a novel.

What beginning did you choose?

Quote of the Day – 6

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Waiting On Wednesday – 3

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly event, hosted by book blogger Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

Today I have chosen Girl of Nightmares (Anna #2) by Kendare Blake (Expected publication: August 7th 2012 by Tor Teen)

From Goodreads:

“In this follow-up to Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas begins seeing Anna everywhere: sometimes when he’s asleep, and sometimes in waking nightmares. But something is very wrong. These aren’t just daydreams. Anna seems tortured, torn apart in new and ever more gruesome ways every time she appears.

Cas doesn’t know what happened to Anna when she disappeared into Hell, but he knows she doesn’t deserve whatever is happening to her now. Anna saved Cas more than once, and it’s time for him to return the favor.”

I LOVED Anna Dressed in Blood that came out last year. I can’t wait for its sequel!

What are you waiting for this week?

Favorite books

What’s on my bookshelf ? 2

Today I want to mention the books that have made me want to become a writer. They are the books I wish I had written myself, the books I can read over and over again, the books I can’t imagine my bookshelf without.

Because they are all different, I can’t really decide a number one and a number ten, so I will mention them in the order I have read them, from the oldest to the most recently discovered.

1-    Remember Me, Christopher Pike

I read this book when I was maybe 12 or 13, and I still recommend it to people. Because when it comes to YA novels, it doesn’t really get better than this: a girl who wakes up and realizes she is a ghost. She embarks on a journey to find out who killed her – before he kills again. It’s gripping, Shari is a great character and all the themes that you want to find in a YA book are there.

Most people would probably call me a ghost. I am, after all, dead. But it wasn’t so long ago I was alive, you see. I was just 18. I had my whole life in front of me.”

2-    Harry Potter Series, J.K. Rowling

I am one of the lucky readers who grew up with Harry: I was thirteen when the first book came out and I eagerly waited for each book to be published so I could read it in the next two days, then re-read it a few time afterwards. As I got older, I came to really appreciate the amazing literary achievement that this series is.

“Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

3-    A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving

I clearly remember reading this book during my High School Senior Year because it had been recommended by my English teacher. And I can still tell you the story from start to finish. The plot is one of the best written I have read, with every single small part of the book being meaningful and important in the end. When I try to write today, I always ask myself: is this important in the grand scheme of things for my novel? If it’s not, I get rid of it.

“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

4-    Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl

Another great plot. It is a 700-page novel about reading, writing and teaching literature, complete with visual aids and a final test. It is incredibly clever, funny and sad. Loving to read can save lives, Marisha Pessl proves it.

“It was as if Hannah had sprung a leak and her character, usually so meticulous and contained, was spilling all over the place.”

5-    Wicked, Gregory Maguire

Another book I keep recommending to everyone, although I know it’s not the easiest read. It’s just that I LOVE it. It tells the story of the Wicked Witch of the West (yes, the one from The Wizard of Oz). It’s about women empowerment, evil and good, friendship and loss, communication and miscommunication, love and hate, books and magic. It’s a Fantasy novel about us. It’s an amazing book.

“Are people born wicked? Or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?”

6-    American Gods, Neil Gaiman

I have read every book by Neil Gaiman, but American Gods remains my favorite. It is a classic American novel written by an Englishman. It tackles serious themes like religion, violence, loss, freedom and love and it mixes them with humor, magic and oddities. It is a Fantasy book, so not everything in it is true, or is it?

“Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end.”

7-    Good Omens, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

I never laughed so hard reading a book. This tale of the apocalypse, by the two literary geniuses that Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett are, is impossible to describe. There are a witch, an angel, a demon, the son of Satan who gets unexplainably lost, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and a nun. All these people work towards/against the coming End Of Days, and it’s hilarious.

“Kids! Bringing about Armageddon can be dangerous. Do not attempt it in your own home.”

8-    A Song of Ice and Fire series, George R.R. Martin

Obviously, this Fantasy series is not yet finished, however its first book, entitled A Game of Thrones, made me rethink my way of writing Fantasy novels. As I read the following books, I grew tired of the main characters dying and of the thickening of the plot. But Daenerys Targaryen  remains one of those characters I wish I had thought of myself;

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”

9-    Wither, Lauren DeStefano

Wither, which came out last year, was, on top of being an amazing read, a real eye-opener for me in terms of Young Adult writing. Yes, you can write for teenagers and still tackle very serious issues, write with a rich vocabulary and describe elaborate settings.

“And here we are: two small dying things, as the world ends around us like falling autumn leaves.”

10- Anna Dressed In Blood, Kendare Blake

Another read from last year, I bought Anna Dressed in Blood because I loved the title. And I wasn’t disappointed, as the writing is as good as the title. This Young Adult ghost story narrated by a foul-mouthed teenage boy is a great novel, on top of being remarkable for its non PG-rated writing.

“Anna, she’s like Bruce Lee, the Hulk and Neo from The Matrix all rolled in to one.”

So, what are your favorite books?