Pushing the Edge: YA Fiction and My Sanity!

You know how last week I wrote that I can’t slow down? Yeah. Screw that.

Mostly because I spent this weekend in a marathon of course-building.

Don’t get me wrong. I like building, designing, and creating courses. I wish I could do more of it. But when you have it all built, and then you lose the entire thing, and it has to go live in 48 hours . . .

This particular course is a continuing education class on young adult fiction, geared specifically for high school and middle school instructors. They’re looking at current YA fiction and how to implement it in their classes. It has been a great deal of fun to design and create it.

I like young adult fiction. There’s something about it — maybe it’s the fact that it moves fast, it starts fast, and it’s often funny and insightful and irreverent. I’ve discovered in the past year, of taking the wonderful Writing Young Adult Fiction online course through the University of Oxford, and writing my own YA book, and helping my friend with hers’, that there’s an entire “cult” out there of adults who are YA devotees. And I think that’s fairly new. I remember when my niece and nephew gave me the first two Harry Potter paperbacks several years ago, I’d barely even heard of those books. But there I was, five days later, at the library, queued up to borrow Prisoner of Azkaban and enduring some really weird looks from the librarian, who I suppose was wondering what a twenty-something wanted with a young adult novel, and why didn’t I just go buy it for myself? Actually, there was some validity to that last question. But the first one was clear:  I needed to know what happened next! I suppose there was supposed to be some sort of shame to wanting to read a young adult novel, the same way there’s a secret little shame in wanting to read romance novels.

Today, though I walk into Barnes and Noble and buy them outright. (The young adult novels, I mean, not the romance novels. I download those to my Nook.) And I’m not the only adult who does that. (Buys YA fiction, I mean, not downloading romance novels.) Today’s YA is edgy, well-written, fast-moving, and explores topics teenagers want to read about. Just because we don’t currently live in a dystopian society doesn’t mean teens can’t relate to Katniss or Tris. And just because (as far as we know, anyway!) there is no Downworld, that doesn’t mean the lives of Will, Jem, and Tessa, or Clary and Jace, are any less important, and that their struggles and problems are any less relate-able.

There’s a fantastic book, How to Write Great Books for Young Adults, that we used as our “textbook” at Oxford. The author is YA literary agent Regina Brooks. She is passionate about young adult fiction, and this is one of the best books out there, IMO, for learning the basics of YA fiction and how to write it. Because it is different from adult fiction! There are different rules. It has to move fast. It has to have a YA protagonist. The parents should be unobtrusive. Etcetera.If you’re at all interested in writing young adult fiction, you have to get that book. Likewise, there’s a plethora of information out there online. Blogs written by YA authors. Articles from the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times about the “darkness” and “edginess” of YA fiction and is it good or bad? It really is its own world — slowly expanding into its own universe.

So I’m excited to see where this course takes my students, and I think they’re excited about it, too. I already know that next year, if I get to teach it again, I’ll choose two different books — The Fault in Our Stars and Code Name:  Verity rather than Thirteen Reasons Why and The Book Thief. Just to keep it fresh and new. But for now, after a 48-hour marathon of revision and rebuilding, I’m happy that it’s up and running, and that I’ve got ten instructors who want to give YA fiction a whirl in the classroom.