When I sat down to write a book, it was YA that came out. It was always going to be. I’d never really considered anything else until someone asked me recently if I would ever write for adults. I’m not sure the answer to that, but I am sure about why I write YA. It’s because of the books that are most important to me, my own life experiences and the feeling that maybe young people are our best bet.
If I take a second to think of the books I hold most dearly in my heart, the one common thread is that I read them when I was under 18, and just when I really needed them. When I was very young it was Little Women, The Secret Garden, Under the Hawthorne Tree, anything by Enid Blyton, lots of Roald Dahl, and The Chronicles of Narnia. I loved anything a little bit magical, and I loved a plucky girl.
As I got older I devoured the Tomorrow series, Looking for Alibrandi, anything by Nick Earls, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, anything by Jane Austen, and of course Harry Potter. I grew up with Harry, Ron and Hermione and those books are major markers for some of the best and worst times of my life. Books have mattered to me since, books like It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, but I think that’s because they speak to my teenage self, even though I might have read them as an adult.
So about my teenage self, or my ‘inner teen’ as it was called at the Emerging Writers’ Festival ‘YA Masterclass’ I took earlier this year. I loved hearing from writers who spoke about accessing that inner teen in order to be able to write authentic voices for young people today. My inner teen isn’t very hard to access; she’s barely below the surface at all. Sometimes I feel like I am still her in any way that really matters. I still doubt myself, and feel awkward meeting new people, and can’t hold a tune to save my life. I still get intimidated by pretty faces, and feel out of place at the gym, and hate making phone calls to book appointments. I still get pimples and social media envy. I still get embarrassed thinking about things I did 15 years ago, and I spend a lot of time wondering if other people are further away from their teen selves than I am.
It’s not just about me though; it’s about wanting to speak to young people who feel like I did and I do. It’s about saying ‘you are good and fine’ to someone that might really need to hear that. It’s about representation and imperfect idols and accurate depictions of the messiness of being young. Maybe some people have a perfect first relationship and a first kiss in a candlelit garden with a soft alt-rock soundtrack and a genuinely romantic partner, but that’s not what a lot of us experience. We don’t all stay BFFs with the people we go to high school with, and we don’t all stand up to the bully when they’re picking on someone smaller or weaker. We’re not always the person we want to be, and especially not when we are making the transition from child to adult. If one young person read something I wrote and felt even the slightest bit better about themselves or their own life, that would be enough.
So that’s why YA for me.