“idk wtd. reading YA ftw!” (I don’t know what to do. I’ll read YA for the win!)

The books we read shape us- they change our worldview. Our worldview then creates the thoughts that determine our actions. And it’s our actions that define who we are.

I would argue that YA books have the most impact of all! It’s when we’re teenagers that we begin to make decisions that will affect us for the rest of our lives. So YA authors- take yourselves seriously! You are not just telling stories- you are shaping lives!

I work with at-risk urban kids as an acting coach and mentor. So when I write, I can’t afford to simply think, “What could make an awesome story?” I have to think, “What traits am I making attractive?” “Which character do I want kids to idolize and why?” “How do I want to change the worldview of my readers?”

Nothing frustrates me more than popular characters that exemplify bad traits. We all know the Twilight example. It’s been beat to death. But here’s another one:

I don’t remember the name of the book (and that’s probably a good thing) but I was talking books with one of the girls I mentor. She was telling me all about the lead character- a girl who ran away with the circus and got cruel revenge on her cheating boyfriend and broke into amusement parks after they closed.

“I want to be just like her,” she said. “If I could be anyone, it would be her.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because she just does whatever she wants and doesn’t care.”

Since that conversation, the girl that I mentor has been making all kinds of destructive decisions.  Decisions that could hurt her for at least the next 10 years, if not the rest of her life. Was it completely the fault of the book? No. But did that book contribute to the idea that thoughtless, selfish behavior is attractive and worth emulating? Absolutely.

So to all you YA writers out there: Which values do your books promote? Are positive character traits painted in a positive light? Are you challenging your readers to become better people?

How will your book improve its readers’ worldview?

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2 thoughts on ““idk wtd. reading YA ftw!” (I don’t know what to do. I’ll read YA for the win!)

  1. mollyspring says:

    I’m not currently working on a YA novel, though I’m sure a future project will be a coming-of-age story. But I still read a lot of YA. I work in the YA part of the library, so it’s part of my job. I’ve also worked with at-risk kids. So I get where you’re coming from.

    I like books that inspire, books with characters that are true heroes, are good. But I like flawed characters, too. I even like villains. They have stories of their own.

    Books that go too obviously for a “message” have a tendency to feel after-school special to me. I don’t think writers have any obligation to write characters that will be role-models or teach any lessons. What they can do is act as a sounding board for the lesson we want to teach, whether they are admirable or not.

    Some of my favorite YA novels feature characters that make bad decisions. Sandinista in The Sharp Time (which I’ll use as an example because I see it on your Goodreads on the sidebar) drops out of school after an incident with a teacher. She obtains a gun illegally from a pawn shop. She doesn’t do anything when she knows the baker puts Comet in the icing of a cake deliberately to make a bunch of frat guys sick. She doesn’t care that her friend and co-worker smokes pot.

    And Sandinista is one of the most moving, believable, real characters I’ve ever read, YA or not. Her unique perspective on the world, her voice, captivate and inspire me. It’s a book I wish I would have had when I was a teenager, dealing with some of the same issues that she deals with in the book.

    I see what you’re saying, and take issues with a lot of what I see in YA, things like slut-shaming or the use of the word “retarded” to mean stupid.

    But I think discussing books with kids (like you’re doing) will do a lot more to positively effect a kid than setting up parameters for what should or shouldn’t be included in a YA story.

  2. Laura Lee Anderson says:

    I totally agree with you.

    I hope this post didn’t come across as promoting only YA morality tales! In my opinion, a message should not be promoted at the expense of the world’s reality or the characters’ authenticity. All characters should be flawed- especially the heroes! But in my opinion, they should be seen as that: flaws. With repercussions. And boy o boy I love a good villain with an excellent backstory that makes you kick yourself for sympathizing with her! (Evidently I also love sounding like a swell Leave it to Beaver episode… “boy o boy” hehe)

    In YA fiction, teens almost inevitably end up breaking rules in order to serve the greater good, and I love it. I mean, the heroine in my book permanently scars somebody’s face! …in order to save herself and her family. And there’s the point I was trying to get across- I think it’s about motive. The motive that my teen saw praised in her book’s protagonist was selfishness, so that was the motive she took for her own, resulting in a number of bad decisions.

    I definitely don’t think that YA books should tell teens what to do or shy away from tough issues. Rather I believe that they should tell it like it is! Good is good, although sometimes flawed (Harry). Evil is evil although sometimes sympathetic (Voldemort). And gray areas are meant to be discussed and explored, as are all things (Snape).

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