The novel I’ve been working on for the past year is a young adult novel. The main character is a teenager and she goes to school, lives with her parents, etc, etc.
I have always shied away from writing for young adults. Not because I am so ancient I don’t remember what it was like to be a teenager (although I will be 30 this year. Oh the humanity!!) I have shied away from this topic because I had a pretty unique upbringing so I don’t really know a lot of stuff I should know. For example, my school didn’t have grades, so I have no clue how old someone in 9th grade is. I always have to ask my husband about the differences between a sophomore, senior, and a junior. My high school also consisted of about 30-40 other kids… total. We had no bells or homeroom. The biggest thing I remember about high school was that I was constantly worried that someone would discover how deeply uncool I am. Fortunately, I think that’s a feeling shared by most teenagers.
Anyway, I realized at some point that I didn’t have to have the same personal school experiences as the rest of the world. In fact, I don’t really want to talk about school in my books – so I mostly don’t. My confidence in this has grown as I’ve been reading more and more YA. Here are a few of the books I’ve read over the past year to get myself in the YA groove:
In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters is what I read most recently. It’s about a girl finding her place in a dark and dismal world during the Spanish flu and World War I. I definitely recommend this one to YA readers and writers. The main character is resourceful, lovable, and realistic. The setting is incredibly grim and the book is set in a time we don’t often read about. The book was so well-written that I learned quite a bit from reading it. I think the main takeaway was that I need to keep focused on how my book is constructed – not only on the story.
Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis are both great novels about a post-apocalyptic lack of water. Both books were great and I felt like they looked at a unique and even possible apocalypse that very few authors approach. Again, the setting was very grim – which I clearly like – and the characters were well written and realistic. The biggest thing I learned from these books was to keep my setting and supporting characters realistic. Even though that’s pretty obvious, it’s actually a lot harder than it sounds.
The Selection by Kiera Cass is totally what I would have read when I was a young teenager. There’s some post-apocalyptic stuff, but it’s mostly bubble-gum romance and chick lit. Sometimes a girl needs a break, and I felt this book was a fun break from my usually more dour picks. I think what I learned most from this book is that I need to remember to try and bring a little bit of romance into my story. Even if it’s not at all the main purpose of the story.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is more of an American classic. I’m actually ashamed that I’d never read it before. It was one of my husband’s favorite books in high school and now I’ve read it twice and seen the movie and it’s one of my faves too. I think what I learned from reading this is that complicated characters are the best characters.
Hollowland by Amanda Hocking is a zombie book. Yes, it is. And I love zombie stories. Deal with it. I think what I learned from this story is that there are leaps of faith a reader will be willing to take – and there are leaps that they simply won’t be willing to take. Like I was totally chill with accepting the zombies and the Mad Max-esque, end of the world people. But I really wasn’t able to believe in a couple of the coincidences that happened.
Confessions of a Murder Suspect by James Patterson is about a girl who’s highly logical mind gets her in trouble after her parents are murdered. I liked this because it gets you deeper and deeper into a crazy world, but I kind of messed up and started on book 2 before book 1, so I knew too much about what was going to happen. That mistake did teach me something though: if I end up with a series, I need to make sure I don’t give so much away in the second book that the first book becomes an academic read.
Asylum by Madeleine Roux wasn’t really what I expected. However, it was a fun read. I liked that there was a mystery that kept getting bigger the more the main character dug. That helped me think about suspense in a new and interesting way.
I read a few other books that I honestly found pretty flawed, so I’m not going to get into them here. I know how much work goes into writing a book and I don’t want to make any author feel they did an imperfect job telling their story. The fact is that no matter how many tools we learn and how much we learn from reading the work of others, your story is your story and nothing will change that.