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  • Writer's pictureSarah

I did not intend to write a young adult novel

I set out to write a novel but early feedback from a literary agent suggested that the story I’d presented '...could work well as a novel for young adult readers.' I had no idea what young adult fiction was at the time. I had no idea how diverse or formally experimental some of it was. Or how much it had to say about young people’s experience of contemporary life. I had no idea of its reach, or of the many fascinating conversations - social, professional and creative - that surround it. And therefore had no idea that it was something I wanted to write.

I do now. Happily.

Defining YA literature is a notoriously slippery task. Those called on to do so such as critics, authors, publishers and agents often resist definitive descriptions.

‘Anything that any young adult reads’ is one definition (Bean, Dunkerly-Bean, Harper 2014); age ranges are cited, for example, 12-18 years old (Hill 2014:3), but ‘people aged between 30 and 44 are responsible for 28 per cent of YA sales (Mushens 2015:2). If these older age groups are reading YAL themselves then the age range definition of 12-18 doesn’t hold up, but are these older buyers simply purchasing for younger readers? It’s impossible to know. Textual characteristic should be easy to identify for critics and authors involved in the poesis and techne of creating the works, but still these can vary. British YA author Melvin Burgess’s definition is as good a one I’ve heard -

‘[YAL] has a teenage main character, speaks to the adolescent imagination, has a tight plot and it accessible, that is to say, the language is clear, not flowery or obscure’

(Burgess 2017, cited in the wonderful author and creative writing researcher Liz Flanagan's PhD thesis, 2017].

What has become clear during the course of my research is that far from being an 'escapist indulgence' as some claim the adult reading of YA fiction to be, current YA literature exists at a nexus of significant broader changing cultural practices. These include literature; (the future of the novel, changing publishing practices); society and culture (identity, diversity, race, gender); and activism [environmental and political).

Current young adult fiction exists at a convergence of ideas about story-telling, digital culture and about multimodal forms of creative practice. It occupies a unique and fecund liminal place in current literature, a place which is prescient of some extremely exciting literature still to come.

Next time: I'll be posting about some of my recent and current fiction reads to show you why and how.

Until then :)

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