When I was 12, an age deemed by many to be perfect for young adult fiction, I gravitated toward John Cheever, John Irving, and Stephen King. I wanted to read what my mom, sister, and step father read. So…Cheever’s short stories were a good intro. King was a no-brainer; “The Body” was the greatest thing I’d read up to that point in my life! Irving novels, I was told, were full of sex and quirky humor.
It made sense that these were the writers I aspired to become later in life. The goal was simple: “Write that kind of novel…” (Much easier said than done, I know!)
Somewhere along the way, though, young adult stories happened…
The Accidental Young Adult Writer
My first novel is anything but literary…it’s a humorous story about a family traveling cross country in a possessed station wagon. Today, Eddington Press released a novella I wrote called Old Man. (Old Man is about a teenager who acts like an old man in the attempt to connect with his dying grandfather.) Tucked in between all that, there’s a screenplay about a teenager who steals his dentist’s time machine (you read that right!) and goes back in time to avoid bullies. There are other stories as well.
Even in the “serious” stuff, there’s often an element of that awkward time we all go through (called junior high/middle school/hell on earth). If you’re lucky, it’s only a year or so of ridicule. I wasn’t so lucky. But…I had a few friends.
The Importance of Young Adult Fiction
I mentioned having a few close friends, which meant I had enough friends with which to play Dungeons and Dragons. And video games. Some kids aren’t even that lucky. For them, there are TV shows with people their ages in them — and while television can be a wonderful thing, there’s a certain depth only a novel can reach. And so, for some kids, the difference between a suicide or school shooting really can be a novel they relate to.
Time is Weird When You’re a Teenager
It’s a time when two years seems longer than several lifetimes. Each day, some kids wake up and think, “I have to get ready to go to that place I hate.” They think of the most drastic ways out. Maybe they talk to an adult, hoping for support, but instead hear, “You have it so easy these days. Why, when I was your age…”
Every day is a struggle, and many adults laugh it off and add to the misery. (I was soooooooooo lucky to have the mom I have, who always listened!)
Fortunately, there are a handful of adults who remember what it was like…maybe they even realize — in many ways — that it’s harder than ever today. (Funny how many of the same adults who say, “We didn’t have all these school shootings when I was a kid!” are sometimes the same adults who laugh when even their own children talk about how hard it is for them.) While some adults are busy trying to ban books in school libraries, many kids turn to the very books their parents are trying to stop…and their lives are changed. Sometimes, their lives are even saved!
If you don’t believe me, watch this video and tell me that young adult fiction doesn’t matter. Maybe one day I’ll write that novel I always dreamed of writing, but I’m not sure they will matter more than my first book, and the novella released today…
The YA book that helped pull me out of the despair of middle and high school was Lord of the Flies. Reading about a band of kids devolving into savages made me realize all bullying I was enduring wasn’t my fault. The kid who is being bullied is not the cause of the bullying. The bully is the cause of the bullying. Is LOTF truly a YA book? It was for me, back then.
Christopher Gronlund says
Lord of the Flies. Yes!!! I know we’re supposed to be uncomfortable, even horrified by it, but…I saw the same thing: it was something else that resulted in people picking on me. Not me. It was through some books and music that I realized I was stronger than them…