The boundaries exist; whether writers should obey them is another matter.
Once a book is published, it is out of the writer’s control. All it takes is for one person to object to a book for no one in that school, or library, to be given access to it. What a writer can control are the words they put on the paper and it is our job to tell the story, not second-guess the audience – or the adults who police the audience. If we observe the rules of what we “shouldn’t” write about, then we are not preventing the students in a single school from reading our truth, we are preventing every reader in the world from reading it.
When I was a teenager, I used to go with my friends to the beaches of Bamburgh and Beadnell. We’d camp in the dunes, have parties on the beach. We’d swim in the icy sea, watch seals, terns, oystercatchers. We’d sit by blazing fires as the beams of lighthouses swept across us and the astonishing stars glittered above. We’d talk of love, death, football, Tamla Motown, Allen Ginsberg, God, ghosts, grief. We’d talk of where we’d go, what we’d do, how we hoped we’d live. We went back to our ordinary lives on Tyneside: school, exams, families, council houses. Not so different, perhaps, from the lives of the young people in my book. They live by the Tyne. They are sixth formers in a comprehensive. They love music and each other. They yearn for joy and freedom. They travel north and have parties on the beach. They try to turn Northumberland into Greece. They try to think that the sun is warm and the sea is not icy. They sing and dance with abandon. Orpheus appears among them one morning as the sun rises over the sea, and he begins to sing them into a new understanding of themselves. Eurydice is Ella Grey, a girl who is not even there when he first appears. She hears his voice through the mobile phone of her best friend, Claire. It is enough: she knows she has always known him and he has always known her. The ancient love is recreated and so it all begins again. Claire is the narrator. She is also in love with Ella Grey. She watches, recounts, tries to share her friend’s joy and calm her own fears. But she can do nothing to stem the trajectory of the ancient, lovely, terrible tale.
Some of the best-known figures of the literary world will gather this weekend at Smock Alley Theatre, in Dublin, for DeptCon1, a conference that celebrates and interrogates young adult (YA) fiction.
YA fiction is the largest-growing genre in contemporary fiction, accounting for almost 30 per cent of the children’s book market, according to Eason, which is organising DeptCon1. However, despite the variety of novels directed at their age group, it can be difficult to get teenagers to turn off their smartphones and pick up a book.
Elaina Ryan, director of Children’s Books Ireland, says the biggest challenge facing parents, teachers and librarians trying to encourage teenagers to read is “competition for time. When [young readers] are making the transition from primary to secondary school, all of a sudden they have much greater access to sports and clubs, the internet and screen time, and this means there are a lot more activities for them to choose from in their leisure time.
Really interesting piece (with data) by David Thorpe
If 80% of ‘Young Adult’ books are bought by adults, should we keep the label? – David Thorpe
Did you know that 80% of Young Adult (YA) books are bought by adults? Why do you think this is? And what does this mean for the future of this label, for publishers and readers? As a writer of books for young adults, who has just completed what might be described as a young adult/crossover novel, this subject interests me intensely.
Some fascinating insights into children’s book reading habits and book sales were recently revealed by market research company Nielsen Books at its second annual Children’s Book Summit at Convene, NYC, on September 15.
Speaking out against censorship by Emily Sanna, associate editor of U.S.Catholid
The best books are those that pick us up, grab us, and don’t let us go until the final page. They are books that remain in our imaginations, long after the last page is turned. And often, these are books where there are characters or situations that we can identify with. The same is true for young adult literature; teenagers aren’t going to pick up a book unless they feel like there is something in the book that is connected to their real lives. If we want kids to become readers, we need to have the courage—as parents, educators, and publishers—to give them books where the characters are living through the same issues that they see every day in the world around them. At best, they have a framework to make sense of the world’s injustices going forward. At worst, it tells them that they aren’t alone.
There is so much to admire in this new book from the author of Liar And Spy, winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. The narration is multi-faceted and subtle. It’s a book that addresses an issue – sexting – and manages to approach it with a sense of proportion and humour. The book is never an issue-driven novel. Stead is extremely clever at using her characters’ dialogue to convey an authorial position on the matters at play in their lives – friendship, family, adolescent love.
And in Bridge, a girl who having cheated death by surviving a serious car accident has just returned to school following several years of recuperation, the author has created a character who cannot fail but enter the reader’s consciousness, wearing, as she does all the time, a headband with a pair of cat’s ears attached.
A passage from near the end of the book that doesn’t contain any plot spoilers, except insofar that it propounds a life view in keeping with the story:
That’s what life is. Life is where you sleep and what you see when you wake up in the morning, and who you tell about your weird dream, and what you eat for breakfast and who you eat it with. Life isn’t something that happens to you. It’s something that you make yourself, all the time. Life is that half minute in the morning before your cat remembers she’s kind of a grouch, when she pours out her love and doesn’t give a flying newton who sees it.
I agree with what a reviewer called Tasha on GoodReads says: “Stead finely captures the feeling of middle school, of just being in the process of changing and growing up, of different people being at various points of maturity both physically and mentally, of meeting new people and maybe being attracted in a different way, and of trying to stay friends through it all. Happily too, it is a book that shows the heart of girls, the bravery of being a modern kid, and the choices that are made. This is not a book that laughs at the antics of pre-teens, but one that celebrates them and this moment in their lives in all of its baffling complexity.”
Paula Yoo is a children’s book author and TV writer/producer. Her latest book, TWENTY-TWO CENTS: MUHAMMAD YUNUS AND THE VILLAGE BANK (Lee & Low), is a Junior Library Guild “Best Book” selection. Other books include the YA novel GOOD ENOUGH (HarperCollins ’08) and IRA Notables SIXTEEN YEARS IN SIXTEEN SECONDS: THE SAMMY LEE STORY and SHINING STAR: THE ANNA MAY WONG STORY (Lee & Low Books). She is also a writer/producer for TV drama series, including NBC’s The West Wing, SyFy’s Eureka, Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle, and SyFy’s Defiance. When she’s not writing, Paula is also a freelance violinist. She lives in Los Angeles.
Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book is TWENTY-TWO CENTS: MUHAMMAD YUNUS AND THE VILLAGE BANK, illustrated by Jamel Akib (Lee & Low Books, 2014). It’s about the life of Professor Muhammad Yunus, who created the Grameen Bank which gave bank loans to impoverished women in Bangladesh. He won the Nobel Peace Prize with Grameen Bank for his pioneering work in the field of “micro credit” which helped people living in poverty become financially independent and self-sustaining. His dreams of eradicating poverty was his way of trying to achieve world peace so nations did not have to fight each other over resources. I also had the honor of meeting and interviewing Muhammad Yunus for this book. (To find out more, see)
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I hope my readers not only learn and become interested in the practical aspects of Professor Yunus’s story about money management and how banks work, but that they also embrace the concepts of compassion and generosity in helping those less fortunate than them.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
The most challenging aspect of writing for me is finding the voice of my characters. What is their point of view, their personality, their flaws, and their speaking voice? Once I figure out the voice of my main character, the rest falls into place easily. I can brainstorm plot and structure and problem solve very easily, but the writing doesn’t truly begin until I have nailed down the voice of my main character.
Louise O’Neill is the feisty, funny, and feminist author of Only Ever Yours and Asking For It, two hard-hitting YA novels that tackle rape culture, the sexualization of young women, and society’s obsession with women’s looks and behavior. Her writing is witty but brutal, forcing us to face the truth head on. These aren’t watered-down children’s books that deliberately shy away from scaring anybody too much; these are the empowering YA books we’ve been waiting for, that might actually change something.
The film rights to Only Ever Yours have already been bought by Killer Content, and it’s set to be their biggest-budget film so far. Think The Handmaid’s Tale meets Stepford Wives meets Mean Girls — that’s the kind of disturbing thriller we’re dealing with here.
Books recommended by Jordan B. Nielsen:
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead (currently being read by ACHUKA)
Sophistication has never been a problem for Stead. Even when her writing was aimed at younger readers, she approached them with warm respect and commanding intelligence. She’s not the cool babysitter who lets you stay up late and stuff yourself with candy. She’s the favorite teacher who talks to you like an adult, and expects you to rise to the occasion. Stranger illuminates this strength of hers to glorious effect.
This is a landmark in literature on the friendships of young women, a shadowy twin to Anne Brashares’s transcendent Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. While similarly honest and compassionate with its protagonists, Stead’s work is decidedly less idealized—the barbs sharper, the falls more precipitous, the victories cloaked in ambiguity. Because of this, Goodbye Stranger packs a wallop of emotion that’s a true pleasure to be leveled by.
George by Alex Gino
… a tender, glowingly hopeful story about a little boy who knows in her heart that she’s really a girl. As both a story and an introduction to transgenderism for young readers, George is a triumph.
Told simply and earnestly, perhaps as a way to leave room for the bigness of the issue it highlights, George is every bit as courageous as its eponymous hero.
The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
A shattering, wicked, and fiercely original novel, The Walls Around Us takes no prisoners in its ruthless exploration of guilt and justice. Author Nova Ren Suma has stated, “I don’t write for teenagers necessarily. I write books about teenagers,” and while it’s true that the content of Walls pushes the upper limits of what’s considered YA, this bracing, merciless dazzler is not to be missed.
Skurnick didn’t set out to bring-much loved and long-forgotten children’s books back into print. “I was hoping someone else would do it – it was very naive of me.” While writing Shelf Discovery, she began posting old book covers to her Facebook page, sparking conversations about the books and their authors. Ig Publishing, which reprints “overlooked” fiction and politics books, contacted Skurnick and asked if she wanted to spearhead a Young Adult reprint series. The idea attracted the attention of big-name children’s authors like Lois Duncan and Judy Blume, who wrote some forewords for the new editions.
Duncan’s 1958 novel Debutante Hill was the first title rereleased under Skurnick’s imprint in 2013. The book and the venture it launched were met with considerable interest in publishing circles and unbridled excitement among YA fans now in their 30s and 40s – the press even operates a subscription service for readers who don’t want to miss any titles. From the start, however, Skurnick has insisted that the appeal of these books is stronger than mere nostalgia, and that they still have plenty to say to today’s tweens and teens.
“As kids we were really lucky because we could sit in a store or the library and look through books,” Skurnick says. Early YA publishing was a high-volume, serendipitous business of “slam-bam-thank-you ma’am” editions. Even the capacious internet can’t quite recover all the ephemeral details.