With all the big awards and Best of the Year and Best of the Decade lists that have come out in the last few weeks, I’m reminded of just how awesome and diverse the Young Adult genre is, and how lucky I am to be a part of it. When I was a teenager, there were very few books I felt I could hold onto as mine, books that told my story from my point of view. Now the field is so full, there’s something for everybody: from vampires to sci-fi, from romance to LBGTQ to historical fiction, from the light fare of Gossip Girl and Lauren Conrad to the depth of Laurie Halse Anderson, from Meg Cabot to Ellen Hopkins to Rachel Cohn to Julie Anne Peters, from Frank Portman to Jason Myers to Sherman Alexie to David Levithan to Marcus Zuzak. We’ve got subject matter covered. We’ve got gritty and we’ve got escapist. We’ve got sex and drugs and rock & roll, and we’ve got cheerleaders and straight-A’s and virginity clubs. What more could you ask for?
Well, I’ve got something. Yes, we should be proud of ourselves. Yes, we’ve come a long way since The Babysitter’s Club. But that’s no reason to take it easy, to become complacent in our art. For me, the process of writing is, more than anything, a search for the truth. Every time I sit down to tell a story, I challenge myself to open my eyes just a little bit more. I push myself to see something new, and then I get to tell you about it. I’ve committed to telling the stories others are afraid to tell, the stories I very much needed to hear as a teen, the stories I was told not to talk about. They are the stories that are “supposed” to be kept as secrets, that when hidden turn into the silence that isolates and tears people apart from the insides. It is an honor and a gift to be able to tell these stories, to speak these truths and give them breath.
But what if we challenged ourselves even more? What if we not only covered the expanses of subject matter; what if we went even further than that? What if we focused not just on what we’re saying, but how we’re saying it? We’ve gotten so good at linear narrative, why don’t we spice things up a bit? Instead of telling our stories the old-fashioned way of beginning to end, why don’t we experiment a little more with non-linear time and structure and point-of-view? Let’s tell stories in fragments and spirals, backwards and upside-down and inside-out. Let’s try to be as diverse in form and perspective as we are in content. We already have some trailblazers–Ellen Hopkins and Sonya Sones have found their voices in verse–why don’t we follow their lead and shake things up a bit?
Why? you may ask. Well, quite frankly, because we can. Because we’re writers and artists and we need to constantly inspire ourselves. Because words are things to play with. Because form is fluid. Because our readers are smart and they want to be challenged and shown new ways of looking at the world. Because we are their guides and we should give them their money’s worth. Because the well of characters and stories is endless, and so should be their vehicles. Because imagination is the greatest gift we have and the world expands the more we use it.