by Kate Gordon
When my parents were teenagers, there was no such thing as YA. Young readers moved straight from Blyton to Hardy, with maybe a quick pit-stop at Salinger on the way.
He was the lone, flag-waving YA author, back in the day. Back before YA was a thing. And I bet nobody ever asked him when he was going to write a “proper” novel.
People ask me. People ask me all the time. When will I write for grown-ups? Do I think I could do it? Don’t I want to write a real book one day?
Outwardly, I smile and mumble some blathering thing and then run away as quickly as I can. Inwardly, I perform kung fu.
Because, well, the thing is, I have tried to write a grown-up novel. Twice, in fact. And I did it, both times, not because I felt like I “should” write a “grown-up” book; because it was more worthy or intellectual or mature. I did it, twice, because the story just came to me and so I wrote it. Because that’s just how I roll. And, twice, I’ve been given the following feedback: “This would work if you rewrote it as YA”.
Because my story was too hopeful. Too anticipative. And “Grown-up” books – the ones that win awards, anyway – they’re not like that. Unless they’re “genre novels.”
But that’s a whole other post in itself.
And it’s nothing, as a recent post has posited, to do with happy endings.
And it’s definitely nothing to do with simplicity. It’s nothing to do with naïvete. It’s nothing to do with books for grown-ups being complicated and books for teens being simple. Anybody who thinks that hasn’t read Friday Brown. Anybody who thinks that hasn’t read Girl, Defective, or Looking for Alaska, or Two Boys Kissing, or Only, Ever, Always. Or Black Juice, or … I could go on. But the people who believe that YA is uncomplicated and inane have probably switched off already. They were never listening to begin with.
I’ve come to peace with it. I’m a YA author. And if you begin reciting Tolstoy in your head in place of listening the moment I tell you that, I say, “your loss”. Go and read your “difficult” novel, telling yourself it’s opening your mind, forgetting the fact you closed your mind the moment I told you I write for people under twenty.
I’m a YA author. And I’m actually fiercely proud of it. Because hopeful? Empowering? Full of possibility and life and freedom and wonder? That’s what I want in a book. That’s why I mostly read YA. I want to write about hope. And what is more hopeful than being thirteen, on the cusp of life, with all of its brilliant opportunity in front of you?
I’m proud of it because we’re a small group, us YA writers, and we’re tight-knit and ferociously delighted to be doing what we do. I’m proud of it because it feels courageous to be in this relatively new market. Teenagers have only existed for the past hundred years or so. Teenage fiction for a much shorter length of time. We’re bright and shiny and sparkly and that feels exciting.
And I’m proud of it because I was “that kid”. I was the kid who lived in the school library, and for whom books were an escape from the difficulties of the real world. Books gave me hope for the future. Books let me see worlds outside the one I inhabited and made me think that maybe there could be a place for a strange kid like me, in one of them. I write for those kids.
Maybe the people who stopped reading when I said I write YA were those kids, too. Maybe they’ve forgotten what it was like. Maybe reading a YA novel would remind them.
I write for kids, too, who have never loved a book before. I write with the hope that they’ll love mine and this will change their world. I write for the kids who might be struggling, and might be helped, in some way, by what I write. I write YA because when teenagers love a book, they love it, with a wildness you don’t see amongst other literature buffs (apart from those who read genre, but that’s another post in itself). They dress up as its characters. They write fan fiction. They get tattoos. They start clubs. They pen gushing letters to authors. They love that book something fierce. Grown-ups do that, too. They’re just too cool to admit it.
Kids who love books don’t care about being cool. They love with exuberance and abandon.
YA is about abandon. YA is about ebullience and nakedness and joy.
I might write another “grown-up” book one day, if a story comes to me. It’ll probably be too jubilant, still, and I’ll probably be okay with that. And I’ll probably be okay every time I recommend a book to a colleague and they show interest until I tell them it’s YA. Until they tell me they don’t read YA. More fool them. Their loss.
I’ll be okay because I know I’m doing something good here. And because I love it. And it makes me blissful. And if it makes just one young person blissful, too, that’s enough. That’s everything.
Kate Gordon’s latest YA novel, Writing Clementine is launching at Fullers Bookshop in Hobart, Tasmania, this Sunday, July 6.
Kate Gordon lives in Hobart, in a mint-green cottage, with her husband, her very strange cat, Mephy Danger Gordon, and a wonderful little girl who goes by the name of Tiger. Kate dreams that one day she and her little family will live in another cottage, by the beach, with goats and chickens. In the meantime, she fills her house with books, perfects her gluten-free baking technique, has marvellous adventures with Tiger, and she writes.