Should YA fiction be written by actual adults?

08:01, Feb 12 2014

"I have been thinking about YA fiction lately, which seems apt considering that I've just finished John Green's millennial cult classic, The Fault In Our Stars.

NY Times Magazine recently published an excellent article about YA fiction called Our Young Adult Dystopia. In it, the writer refers to Veronica Roth's Divergent series as "hastily assembled" and "cynically marketed". She compares the series to J.K Rowlings' Harry Potter and Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games, and finds it seriously lacking - calling it "the kind of flat that made me angry as I read it". 

A few days after reading the above piece, I came across an interview with John Green from last year, where he said what he valued about writing YA fiction was that the "business" side of it was not as cut-throat as adult fiction. He speaks against what he calls "the emphasis on blockbusters; the refusal to allow a writer's career to develop over many books", which doesn't happen as often in the YA world.

It would appear from the NY Times article that this may no longer be the case. Publishing houses now seek young authors, the younger the better, so they can aggressively market their youth. As the writer of the article says "Roth was 21 when she sold the book...I could not help noticing how Roth's case echoed in another over the summer: Samantha Shannon's. She was a 21-year-old Oxford student when her first novel, The Bone Season, was declared The Next Big Thing last August".

The point she was trying to get to, is that though the genre is YA, publishers and marketing departments seem to be blurring the line between fiction written for young adults, with the actual age of the authors.

After all, Rowling was 30 when she sold Harry Potter, and Collins was 46 when The Hunger Games hit the big leagues. Green is 36. Lois Lowry (who wrote The Giver) was 56 when it was published, and C.S Lewis was 51 when the Narnia books came out.


Much closer to home, Lani Wendt Young, who writes the popular YA series Telesa, is somewhere in the vicinity of her late 30's - early 40's.

I have come to the conclusion that though something is classified YA fiction, it doesn't mean that the quality of the writing, editing and research that goes into it are (or should be), any less than for adult fiction. The best YA books are the ones that actually speak across the generations, covering general themes of love, loss, ageing, confusion and identity that we all grapple with.

I enjoy reading YA books because they are often less afraid of being populist. I like that you can regularly find characters who are unashamed romantics and/or idealists, good rollicking fight scenes, emotional outbursts and occasionally over-the-top drama. It reflects what it feels like to be a teenager, a pot of passions threatening to boil over at any point of the day.

Because of this, I agree with the writer of the NY Times article. "Age is what the greats have in common". It takes an adult, most of the time (as with any rule, there are always exceptional exceptions), to stare back down the barrel of time and write the kind of multi-layered narrative that captures both the emotional richness of adolescence and the complexity of plot that it takes to drive character and story arcs forward.

Being a Young Adult is something that you can only appreciate in the fullness of time, and that means having some life experience under your belt so you can really wrestle with what that time means, and come to the kind of self-awareness and understanding you need to write about it with some sense of analysis and intelligence.

Do you think that the best YA fiction are written by adults?

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