Tag Archives: young adult novels

Embarrassment: Being an Adult Reading YA (This is Totally Me!)

92800243_463415080d_zI am an avid reader. Well, I go through cycles where I devour book after book, and then I lose the drive to read for a while. Typically in those dry book spells I watch too much TV.

But that’s getting away from today’s topic.

Let’s talk about embarrassment. When I was a teenager, I could get away with reading any young adult novel I wanted without feeling guilty. After all, YA books are meant for the 12-18 year old age range. However, with my teenage years growing further and further behind me, I find myself not wanting to read YA books in public.

Why?

I’m embarrassed. I feel like people will somehow look down on me for enjoying books that tend to not have much depth. (In all fairness, I get embarrassed over reading adult urban fantasy books as well.)

In reality, I realize most people aren’t paying any attention to me. Yet, there are those few who are, and after having some of my professors (I’m currently working on my master’s thesis) proclaim that they have less respect for people who read any sort of YA, fantasy, or science fiction, I’m all the more aware of what I read in public.

When asked what my favorite books are, I have two responses: one for the academic world and one for the social world. In the academic realm, I’ll say Jane Eyre, Beloved, and Dubliners. For friends and the more casual social world, I’ll say the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, the Abhorsen series, Born to Run, and Into Thin Air. (The first two series are YA, while the second two books are non-fiction.)

I shouldn’t feel this way. I should enjoy what I enjoy. After all, it is my life. And I’m not the only adult who enjoys reading books targeted for a younger audience.

Several years back (okay, a few more than several), my friend convinced me to go see the second Twilight movie in the theaters with her. We ended up sitting between a group of three or four fourteen-ish looking girls and a trio of middle-aged women. When the character of Jacob Black (played by Taylor Lautner) took off his shirt, both the fourteen-year-olds and the middle-aged women squealed in delight. The look on their faces was pure, girlish glee.

Neither group was at all embarrassed at being excited over movies that stemmed from books many people vehemently denounced as an author’s teenage wish fulfillment.

For a moment I found myself relaxing, thinking that it’s okay to enjoy some silly, shallow, and melodramatic things. But, even all those years ago, when anyone asked me what I thought of the movie, I’d say it wasn’t worth seeing again and tell the story of the middle-aged women, as if somehow by shifting the focus onto them no one would notice that during the scene where Jacob Black takes off his shirt, I appreciated his muscles too.

Do you feel embarrassed reading certain types of books in public?

(Photo courtesy of Jimmy Emerson, DVM.)

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How Appropriate is Sexual Violence in YA literature?

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Recently, I was told to be more aware of the audience I was writing for. Further, I was told to be very careful of what I write because my intended audience is young adult. The content in question dealt with implied sexual threat, and one individual’s critique was that it may be too adult for young adults. That because I included a few implied lines within my writing that something unsavory might happen, an editor may not buy my novel.

This comment intrigued me on many levels. One, violence is often a large and widely accepted, and expected, part of YA literature. Look at The Hunger Games and Divergent, two more recent examples of extremely violent trilogies. Now, in these novels most of the violence is non-sexual, however Divergent includes a scene where, while the protagonist is being beaten up, she is molested, and that sexual attack is described, not glossed over.

In Days of Blood & Starlight, the second novel in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, the protagonist is almost raped. The scene’s most tense point is when the would-be rapist is naked and on top of the protagonist. In Speak, the protagonist is raped. The story is about her recovering from that incident, and the hypocritical nature of society’s perceptions of rape culture.

There are many more examples of sexual violence within YA literature, so I was curious as to why this individual had been so adamant about the implied threat within my writing, and that some others within this particular critique group had seemed to agree with her.

Do individuals believe that teenagers and young adults should be sheltered from the darker topics of life? (Violence, cursing, mental illness, rape, suicide, drug abuse, and eating disorders are all examples of topics typically considered “darker.”) Do these individuals think that young people aren’t already exposed to these topics?

Novels have been and are a great, and safe, way to help younger individuals navigate the “darker” sides of life. They enable young adults to process topics they’re already ruminating on, and help them to think of ways to overcome complex obstacles.

I realize there are limits to what can be put into a YA novel. I doubt that topics such as bestiality, incest, or an explicit sex scene would do well in YA, nor am I advocating to discuss such topics within YA literature. But, a YA story shouldn’t be so childish that older readers, and I’m talking about readers sixteen/seventeen and up (many adults read YA), would roll their eyes and close the book.

YA encompasses a wide range of readers. If you only focus on what the publishing world has established as the YA age range (twelve to eighteen year olds), you still get a varying range of readers. Those twelve to fourteen/fifteen may be too young to read what sixteen to eighteen year olds are reading (though when I was fourteen, I was reading Jodi Picoult, as were many other girls at my school). Therefore, it would make sense to have varying YA books, some for younger teenagers (i.e. – The Iron King) and some for older (i.e. – The Immortal Rules).

One of the most important things to remember is that young adults aren’t stupid. They can tell when an author sanitized a novel in such a way that it’s unbelievable. Teenagers are aware of and/or have experienced “darker” sides of life. They flirt, they make out, they get harassed; some of them have sex, some drink, some experiment with drugs, some experience depression, etc. Keeping realistic threads, even in YA science fiction and fantasy, connects readers to a novel, and will make them want to read either the next book in the series or more novels by that author.

What do you think?

(Photo courtesy of Viewminder.)

YA vs. NA: The Dividing Line

lets-talk-about-sexOnly in the literary world are 13-17 year olds considered young adults. To the rest of the world, young adults are those people in their twenties. However, the literary world has decided to create a category for these young adults. They’ve titled this age group New Adult.

In video games, you have E for everyone, T for teen, and A for adult. That division makes more sense than delineating novels into children’s vs. adult books, where children’s books encompass picture books to YA.

All the young adults I know are not children. They are those individuals in college, starting out with their first professional jobs, balancing graduate school and work, etc. They are not freshmen in high school or working on getting their first kiss.

Would you consider a fifteen year old to be a young adult? I think of a fifteen year old as a teenager, a young one at that.

Some of the YA books I’ve recently read I was surprised at the sexual content in them. Just because you call something “adult” doesn’t mean you can get graphic. I won’t name any specific books, but there were some YA novels that detailed a guy going down on a girl or a girl experiencing an orgasm.

I don’t know about you, but when I was fifteen, I was naïve, hadn’t been kissed, or had a boyfriend (I don’t count preschool and elementary school where relationships last about two hours).

Now that I’m older – a true young adult – I would be uncomfortable with teenagers reading some of the YA books out there. I’ve got a thirteen-year-old cousin and I don’t like thinking about her reading some of the YA books I have.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that YA books and NA books don’t have a clear dividing line. Sure, people will tell you that NA characters are eighteen to mid twenties, that they deal with losing their virginity, falling in love – true love, not infatuation – for the first or second time, and the like.

But it seems nearly every YA book has the two main characters falling in love, making out, having sex, and more. The main difference I see is that YA protagonists must be 13-17 years old.

Maybe my issue is more with YA books being called YA. Ask agents, writers, publishers, editors, etc. about what makes a YA book effective. Most will tell you one of the big proponents is an authentic teen voice. So, why aren’t YA books called Teen books? Is it because that would limit marketing capability? Would older individuals be dissuaded from reading a group of books labeled Teen instead of Young Adult?

As for NA books having a more adult voice, the few NA books I’ve read dealt with sex, drugs, and abuse, but I’ve seen all of that in YA books. More so, the NA books I’ve read each had a voice that sounded suspiciously like a teenager. I will say that many YA books don’t go into as great of detail as NA, but the same issues are still there.

What do you guys think?

(Photo courtesy of Utopyacon: http://utopyacon.com/categorize-this/)

Take The Reins: Controlling Your Novel’s Pacing

Pacing is about building the thrill. It’s about keeping readers intrigued for the entire novel without exhausting them. This tends to be especially true for young adult novels, where events occur at a faster pace than adult books.

Pacing is the speed of your prose. For example, shorter sentences increase the pace, while longer ones slow it down. So, for action scenes, shorter sentences work better. For those languid, romantic ones, longer sentences will do.

Good pacing has an ebb and flow. There’s a balance between slower scenes and high-speed scenes. If you have a breakneck pace for the entire novel, readers will burn out. So much will be occurring so quickly that everything becomes a blur, and nothing, or very little, will be remembered. However, have too many slow scenes, and readers will be more likely to put down the novel. And not pick it back up.

Here are some tips to reach that right balance:

  1. Begin the story at a critical point. The protagonist is at a crossroads. Difficult choices must be made immediately. Doing this will instantly draw readers in.
  2. Cut the boring bits. Novels aren’t like real life in many ways. One of those ways is that only the most tension-filled and vital moments are included. Readers don’t care what random dreams character A had, or the three different outfits character B spent an hour trying on, or the multiple paragraphs on character C’s elementary school crush that moved away in the third grade.
  3. Dialogue vs. Description. Dialog tends to be read more quickly because the sentences are usually shorter. Descriptive scenes are denser, and so read more slowly. But, you need to be able to put both dialogue and description together to truly keep readers interested. Description that quickly sets the mood and shows that something’s about to happen, will lead readily into important dialog, and give readers a clear picture of what’s going on.
  4. Start each chapter with a crucial moment. Chapters allow for breaks in the story. However, many readers will read the first sentence or two of the next chapter to see what’s coming up. If those first sentences grab them, they’ll keep reading, instead of putting the book down.
  5. Don’t put all the action in one scene. By splitting the action up into several scenes, readers will be left with cliffhangers that will keep them reading. And when finishing off a series of scenes always include something that makes the story move forward.
  6. At times, slow it down. Sometimes pacing needs to slow down to keep balance in the novel. These times are when you add in relevant description. What people look like, what the weather is like, or where the events are occurring. This allows people to build images in their minds, and to add to those images later as more description is added throughout the novel.
  7. Unpredictability. When readers see what’s coming, they’ll assume and anticipate what happens. This takes a lot of power away from your scenes. If readers can’t guess what’s about to happen, then scenes become fascinating.

What kind of pacing do you prefer?