I had the most interesting conversation the other day. ‘So what do you do?’ a gentleman asked me.
‘I’m an author.’
‘Oh wow! Like JK Rowling?’
‘Yes. Exactly like that.’
‘I have an amazing idea for a YA novel.’
‘Oh. OK.’ The chap then went on to describe, in very close detail, the plot to Michael Grant’s GONE sequence. I asked if he’d read this and he said he had not. After further digging, it transpired that beyond a bit of Harry Potter, he had read little to no YA. Well, that’s just bad planning. How can you possibly write for a market you haven’t even slightly researched?
I prescribed our wannabe writer chum a capsule wardrobe of essential YA that any starter should cast their eye over. Now, this is just MY list – the books which have most inspired me. I imagine your YA essentials will be different and you should certainly tell me in the little box below!
Here’s the YA Starter Kit:
HIS DARK MATERIALS – PHILIP PULLMAN
Why? The imagination. YA was a uniquely American concept when this trilogy begun in 1995. As such, the rules were still being made and Pullman presented a breadth and scope far beyond most children’s fiction. His Dark Materials is an epic fantasy with intriguing and loveable characters but is also a thought-provoking dissection of religious zeal.
NOUGHTS & CROSSES – MALORIE BLACKMAN
Why? The passion. I doubt that any ‘adult’ books have addressed racism in such a concise and poignant fashion. That’s the best thing about YA – it doesn’t have to be showy and florid to be profoundly moving. A dystopian Romeo and Juliet tale that features everything you’d want in YA: romance, treachery, terrorism. Malorie Blackman is truly the queen of UKYA.
CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME – MARK HADDON
Why? The originality. Few YA novels (the jury scurries back and forth as to whether this is YA or not. I think it definitely IS) have toyed with form in the way that this one has. Lead character, Christopher, has an autism-like condition and presents a truly unique narrative. A novel which will change how you see the world.
TWILIGHT – STEPHENIE MEYER
Why? The sales. When something becomes a true phenomenon, I believe it’s vital to analyse the appeal. For this reason, I think writers should explore Brown, James, Rowling and Meyer – because we ALL aspire to reaching their global audience. The appeal of the Twilight Saga lies in Bella’s transformation and, more importantly, the fact she attracts not one but two gorgeous suitors. I want to smack the bottoms of authorly Twilight haterz because Meyer blew the market open and allowed us to be here. That said, perhaps just read the first two.
SABRIEL – GARTH NIX
Why? The character. You could substitute this for THE HUNGER GAMES should you wish. Both Sabriel and Katniss are fantastic role-model characters – capable, intelligent and brave. Personally I prefer Nix’s fantasy quest because who doesn’t love a bit of necromancy? Sabriel is one of the best examples of a book that will appeal to literally any reader – it really does have everything. Mystery, magic, danger and romance are all in the mix.
FOREVER – JUDY BLUME
Why? Ralph. More than thirty years on, Forever is still THE teen sex book. The gentle coming-of-age story is as relevant now as it was then. Perhaps it’s a little misty-eyed, but Forever introduces sex in such a non-threatening way that by the end, you do feel as if you’re a little older and wiser alongside the characters. Honest without needing to be shocking.
LOOKING FOR ALASKA – JOHN GREEN
Why? The voice. You could also have HEART SHAPED BRUISE by Tanya Byrne in this position. Green’s characters (in any of his books, I just favour this one) are wise, world-weary, intelligent, funny, witty and wry – I always get a taste of Kevin Williamson era Dawson’s Creek – which is no bad thing. The voice is compelling, distinctive and in no way patronising. Green doesn’t write ‘for young adults’, he writes stories about young adults. Byrne achieved the same realism with a UK flavour.
A MONSTER CALLS – PATRICK NESS & JIM KAY
Why? The power. YA has the power to reduce big, giant, iron-soul people (like me) to tears. There are so many books I could have featured here, but I opted for A Monster Calls because it weaves a fantasy element (scary tree monster) with the harrowing real-life drama, making that little bit more distinctive than your average weepy. I’m also a sucker for a portmanteau story-within-a-story.
I think those ten novels would give a well-rounded view of what it is we YA writers are aiming for. Powerful, honest, exciting and imaginative stories about intriguing, rounded characters. Well, that’s what I’m working towards anyway! What books would you air-drop into the home of someone who had never read YA? TELL ME HERE: