Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What Should YA Books Do?

Back when I wrote my very first book Dragonfly, I was just having fun. I wanted to write a steamy, entertaining romance with a touch of mystery. Nothing too heavy. Something that would fit in nicely on the CW...

But I needed help.

I was a journalist and former English teacher, so I was kind-of feeling my way through novel writing. As a result, I started blogging, communicating with other writers, reading about craft, following YA specific blogs like this one.

Then I read a post by someone--I can't remember who--that argued YA books should always have a message, some life lesson.

The writer posited that young adults are at a critical stage in their development, where they're forming their world views and establishing their belief systems.

According to this person, it was our duty as novelists to give them meaningful stories to help them in this process.

(Note: I've never liked being told my duty. John Edwards tried that and lost me. Then he cheated on his wife.)

Still, even though I wasn't a hundred percent onboard with this person, it struck a nerve with me. I guess it was the English teacher coming out.

So I put the Dragonfly series aside and wrote the Truth books.

The year was 2009, kids, and the issue was gay teens being beaten. Some of you might remember Matthew Shephard and what happened to him in 1998. Well, ten years later that shit was still happening. This time it was Scotty Joe Weaver, and it happened in a town just 20 minutes from my home.

The Truth About Faking is a romantic comedy, so I didn't go dark. But I tried to do what this blogger advised. I tried to mix a few drops of medicine with the sugar.

Lately, it seems the message in many YA books is about rape and/or abuse of female teens by their boyfriends. It kind of bugs me because this message is being explored at the same time we're seeing an explosion in books romanticizing abuse of women by male boyfriends or lovers.

The question of what message female acceptance of such stories is sending our young men is what inspired a particular scene in The Truth About Letting Go...

But here is not where I take a position on that issue.

Instead, I'm wondering what you think YA books should do. Should they always have a message? Or like the Dragonfly series, should they be pure entertainment?

Is it possible to write a story that doesn't contain a message of some variety?

On a related note, what's the message needing to be sent now?

A friend of mine said she wanted to see more books about interracial relationships. I've been watching Scandal, and I've got many thoughts on that topic. Who knows, maybe another Truth book is percolating in my brain after all.

I'll sign off and let you respond. As I used to tell my students, always know why you believe what you believe--never just accept. Ask questions until you have the answers you need. The message of this post. *wink*

Have a super week, reader-friends! Stay cool~

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