‘Young Adult’ is one of the biggest and best marketing moves ever made. And to all those nay sayers who claimed it would become a long forgotten fad… you were wrong.
But what makes YA such a successful category? I think there are a million reasons, but I’m going to pluck out just one. I think it’s one of the more important factors.
And when I say ‘language’ I’m not necessarily talking about the literal way many YA novels sound. There’s that ‘teen’ voice that is pivotal to the success of some books, whereas in others there is no slang, no cursing, no ‘making modern’ of the language, and yet these titles do just as well as those that are more ‘on trend’. (what’s in a trend, I ask you?)
One of the most important factors in the success of a YA book, in my opinion, is how it utilises the language of ‘discovery’.
The magic of YA stems from this uncertainty of the future, and delving into the unknown, and experiencing exciting (or horrible) ‘firsts’. And along the way a discovery is made.
It can be a discovery of the self. This is most common; finding out something about the maturing self. And this can be mentally, physically, sexually… whatever.
It can be a discovery of the world. An end to naivity. The destruction of ideals or dreams. Finding aspirations and passions.
It an be the discovery of an emotion. Nothing hurts more than that first heartbreak. And the one after. And hell, the one after that. But that first one is all the more sharper for not having yet discovered the depths of the pain it can cause. Or it can be uncovering a well of joy and happiness that was never before imagined. It might be seeing red and finding that you have one hell of a right hook… and then feeling intense shame and remorse afterwards.
If a YA book does not, in some way, use the language of discovery to move the story along then what you’ve got in your hands is an adult book with children in it. That’s not to say that characters cannot experience or explore the same discoveries, but in theory YA is pitched right at that transitional period between child and adult. A change is gonna happen, or it’s about to. And this is simple biology.
Part of my attraction towards reading and writing YA books is the excitement and adventure that discovery can bring. And, for sure, that element of danger too.
I think a protagonist can be very switched on, knows what they want, and possibly already has overcome a lot to be where they currently are as I pick up the book… but I want more. I need the proverbial spanner to be thrown in the works to fuck shit up. And then the protagonist can discover something more, something deeper, about themselves, about adulting, about the big bad world.
Discovery also goes hand in hand with ‘change’. Change is scary. And I like reading about that fear and watching it turn into something hopeful (or maybe not, I’m also down with a dark, dingy tunnel of hopelessness).
All the best YA forces their characters through the gauntlet, pushes them into their own personal hell, and has them pop up the other side having changed, and experienced some kind of discovery.
For me, this is what makes YA literature so special. It embraces this fractous and terrifyingly important space, and it rolls with it. Takes the punches. Accepts the hug. Cries. Spits. And resurrects itself in new and more electrifying forms with every cycle of debut authors.
YA rocks. And so does its readers and writers. Keep on doing what you’re doing.