Oh Toto! I don’t think we’re in Sweet Valley anymore!

September 26, 2009

ReaderWhen I was thirteen, I had three options when it came to YA: Sweet Valley High, The Outsiders, and Judy Blume (but not Forever because that was the naughty Blume book you couldn’t find in the school library).

How seventeen years have changed things. Compared to some of the issues faced by protagonists in today’s YA, Forever looks downright quaint. A quick look at my bookcase reveals a book about a boy who wants to break every bone in his body to become stronger, a girl coping with the rape and disappearance of her best friend, a native kid who attempts to leave the reservation before it kills him, and a boy who’s trying to figure out if the girl he loved died in an accident or if she killed herself. (Yes, alright? I admit it. Twilight is on there too.)

One of the challenges for adults over a certain age—adults wishing to write YA—is just how much the market has changed and expanded over the last few years. It’s not all edgy and it’s not all dark, but you do have much more wiggle room than Judy had with Forever in 1975.

Every few months, a new author with an idea centered around a teenage character will stumble onto Absolute Write and ask if swearing or sex or drinking is okay in YA. The answer is on the shelves of your local bookstore. Before (and while) writing, take time to do your homework. Check out Shady Lane’s wonderful post about edgy YA on AW. Visit your local bookstore and library. Ask the bookstore staff what kids are buying. Pick up anything that takes your fancy. Every writer should be a reader. If you haven’t read YA since the days of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, what are you waiting for?

Image courtesy of the National Media Museum.

*Bonus points to those who can guess what four books I refer to in the second paragraph. Bonus points are not redeemable for cash or prizes.

— Kathleen




  2. Ooh, pick me! Pick me!!
    *jumps up and down raising hand*

    Break, Living Dead Girl (???), Sherman Alexie and New Moon.

    …I actually don’t know the 2nd.

  3. AWESOME FIRST POST KATHLEEN! Welcome to the blog!!! Jamie

  4. Thanks Jamie 🙂

    Kristin and Kate: You’ve got Break and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

    Living Dead Girl was a good guess but not correct.

  5. Jellicoe Road? 🙂

    Awesome post, btw!

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