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?