Teen readers are some of the most avid readers in the market. They deserve well-thought out novels that entertain and inspire. Yet, every time I pick up a YA novel at the bookstore there’s some kind of cuss word, explicit reference, or drug reference in the first five chapters. Sure, teens deal with heavy stuff every day at public high schools. But that doesn’t mean authors need to promote sex, drugs, and rock and roll. (Just kidding on that last one. )
Why Teens Need Better Options
Ok, before you get Footloose on me and organize a dancing protest, consider this. Teen reading is a great time to show kids making good choices. Those high school years are not only a teaching time academically, but relationally as well. That’s why it’s important to portray characters who eventually make good choices, even if they mess it up at first. They still need to get it right in the end.
Teens want to read books they can relate to. But what makes a book transcendent? A book that rises above the standards, shows real characters fighting tough choices, and becoming better people in the process. Don’t give the character exactly what they want. Watch how they deal with it. That’s real life. Adulthood. Aren’t teen years preparation for adulthood?
Readers want to grow with the character. It’s part of a good story. Especially to teenagers. They’re in the middle of a hyped-up time of change and they are open to learning new things. So give ‘em what they need, not just what they want.
Why I Choose to Write Clean
I read clean fiction. The Christian market is a great place to find clean reads, but I’ll consider books that meet the clean standard. I prefer positive, redemptive books that show a glimpse of a new reality or shed a new light on something.
It’s what I strive to write. Even in the land of the unpubbed, I picture my reader when I write. In my mind, my reader is a teen girl who is tired of the same old click-lit, mean girls club, vampire romance. They want something that’s funny, honest, and thought-provoking. And they don’t want the junk they deal with every day. They want to rise above it to learn more about themselves and their world.
I loved those stories as a teen. Madeleine L’Engle is still my favorite author. I grew up reading her young adult books, A Wrinkle in Time and my all-time favorite A Ring of Endless Light. Those books stayed with me. They transcended the time period they were written in and spoke to me. One day I hope to publish novels that will speak to any reader, anywhere, just like that.
An Author’s Challenge
In YA fiction, it’s hard to stay on trend and still write a transcendent story. It takes extra research, plotting, and characterization. But it’s well worth the effort for a book that will speak to teens the way no other book can. And those books are usually appreciated by adults as well. I still love finding that great YA book I can rave about.
Everybody loves a good story, but a great one is remembered for a long time. Maybe that’s why Jesus taught in stories. Yeah, I like to set my standards high. Reach for the stars and all that. A good story is something we can all relate to. A great story is one that makes us see the world in a whole new light. Gotta love the power of story.
Here are some of my favorite YA authors:
Madeleine L’Engle Classics that read like modern-day stories.
Jenny B. Jones Hilarious and thoughtful books that inspire.
Robin Jones Gunn Godly stories the portray girls making good choices.
Stephanie Morrill A thoughtful, funny, and dramatic series of how a bad girl finds a good path.
Kristin Billerbeck Lighthearted, inspirational chick lit for teens and twenty-somethings.
Nicole O’Dell Great choose-your-own-ending series.
For more insights on this topic go to Holly Michael’s Writing Straight blog post with guest blogger YA author Jennifer Donohue What’s In a Story.
Q4U: What are your pet peeves about YA fiction? What are some clean reads you can recommend?