YA? Why Not?

I used to get asked a lot why I was writing a book for young adults. Now, with the young adult market booming (have you seen how much space Borders now gives to its YA section?) I don’t get asked so much. I think people assume it’s because the market is there. Now, I’m grateful to be writing for this audience and happy that kids, teens, today are reading, especially after a friend of mine just told me that he has students at his college, and it’s a good school, English Lit majors, who brag about how they get away with reading as few books as possible, and never the whole book!

I can’t blame these students, okay, I can, but really they are the lost reader generation. You see (and, yes, I know I am aging myself here again) when I was a child, we only had 6 channels, well, really 5 because who watched PBS? Except for when the Electric Company was on. I’m too old for Sesame Street. We didn’t have a lot of choice but to read when we were stuck at home and we needed an escape from the pressures of teen life or teen angst or just from our freaking parents who we thought were too old to get it, and “it” as in every thing. When I was thirteen my mother was only thirty-three.

It was different when we could go outside where we played in traffic and, I mean, literally we played in traffic. When it came to us kids, our parents had their long lists of things they pulled their hair out over — our using drugs, having protected or unprotected sex, planning the wedding after the rabbit died, making sure we ate fish on Fridays- but what wasn’t on their freak-out lists was when we played games like—see a car coming, jump into the middle of the street, and when the driver slams on his breaks inches away from your body, extend your right arm out in front of you, and sing, “Stop in the Name of Love.”

Like our parents once were, though we could never imagine it, we were city-kids and city kids played in the streets. When it was hot we swam in fire hydrants and when it was cold, and the pavement icy, we hitched on the back bumpers of city buses and slid until we lost our grips or the bus driver slammed on his breaks and cursed us away.

Yes, this was our version of snowboarding. Only we didn’t need a snowboard. We probably needed our heads examined, and we certainly could have used helmets, but those were for people who did really dangerous stuff, like Evil Knievel. We were just kids having fun. And this kind of fun may have not kept us off the streets but it did keep us off drugs, well, for a few years anyway.

But on the days you stayed home sick, especially if your mom knew you were faking but she didn’t have the time to argue because she was already late for work, you couldn’t go outside and play in traffic, you had to stay home. And Grandma controlled the TV. Grandma and her Soaps–A woman is held hostage in September and nine months later when you turn on the TV that same woman is still tied up in that same room. Only now she’s fallen madly in love with her kidnapper. You see that scenario once, twice, and well, it just gets boring. So what else was there to do but read? Sure, there were books for kids– Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown– but you were a teenager, a pre-teen anyway, and you want sex, drugs, and rock and roll, adult stuff to read about. If you were lucky, your mom had another book that she had bought that she hadn’t read herself, or she wouldn’t have left it right there on the shelf in between Betty Crocker’s Cook Book and the Dr. Spock book you thought was about Star Trek and was grateful when you finally did read it that your mother hadn’t. There was that book about where the small town girl goes running off to Hollywood to find fame but instead finds, bad men, drug addiction, and dies from either drugs or a broken heart. The ending was ambiguous. But you savored all 445 pages of it.

So we read, we read books that were age appropriate when we had to for school, but for pleasure we read books that should have been hidden in the back of our parents’ closets, so we wouldn’t see them, the same way our best friend Rita, and her three sisters, had to hide their Kotex pads way in the back of their closet so their one, and only, brother wouldn’t find them. In those days, boys were kept in the dark about menstruation until they were old enough to understand the meaning of, “I’m late.”

Then an innocent game that you played on a television console was invented and that was the beginning of the age of video-game addiction.

And when your grandmother got up to make dinner, well there was now so much more than just the one After School Special to watch. There was now television programming not just for babies, but for teens, and not just in the afternoon but at night, prime time—let’s not forget, The Not for Ready For Prime Time Players, which our parents let us watch because there was no school the next day and in those days there were no for adult audience warnings posted on the corner of your television. Besides, our parents weren’t watching Saturday Night Live anyway. Saturday nights were date nights. And then there came the mother of all inventions—the one thing that gave ever teen the ultimate reason to never have to read for pleasure again, CABLE. While I was in college trying to get through Freshman Comp, my sister and her teen friends were moon dancing to MTV. Remember? Before the commercials?

How could books stand a chance? I’m not saying kids of the generation(s) that followed soon after mine didn’t read. Many did. Many wanted to, but they didn’t have to for entertainment. They didn’t have to read to get a taste of the forbidden, the stuff that peaked their curiosities and hormone levels, but were never discussed among mixed company, meaning their parents. They now had Pay TV and scrambled porn.

But by the grace of god and authors like Daniel Handler (pen name, Lemony Snicket) and J.K. Rowling who gave kids a lot of credit, who knew that kids wanted fantasy, but they also wanted characters that were real and who would take chances and do stupid things like jump into traffic and sing and who also suffered loss. Finally, there were books that could compete with cable, and Fios, and Nintendo. These books were written for them. And yes, books were again read not because they were assigned, but because they were fun and even sexy. Books are no longer for adults or nerds or that bored kid stuck at home with nothing else to do. Books are written for kids, teens, young adults, whatever the market wants to call them, and they are cool.

Here we are 1400 and something words later and I still never answered the questions I started with– YA? Why Not? I did say, I had struggled with Freshman Comp. If this weren’t a blog, and this was a paper for Freshman Comp, and I wanted at least a B, I would go back to the beginning and revise and do that inverted pyramid thing (am I mixing up composition terminology with cheerleader lingo again?). But, this is a blog, and according to the rule of blogging, as I understand them, I can just hit publish post.

Facebook Twitter Email

2 thoughts on “YA? Why Not?

  1. I actually make an effort to understimulate my kids – let them just roam around the house sometimes, and it's been a wonder at making voracious readers… that or playing in traffic I guess! I YA because that was the age (around 12-14) that I was the BEST and MOST VORACIOUS reader I've ever been – reading and writing for that age group gets me back to that wonderful reader self, when everything was possible and everything was in front of me – and that's such a gift for a (ahem) woman who's no longer 12-14…

  2. Thanks for your post, Pat. Glad you hit 'publish'! It is a conversation after all. I love YA too because it was the time books had the biggest impact on me. I read everything from Wuthering Heights to Enchantress from the Stars..and anything by Victoria Holt that my best friend and I carried around with us, giggling at the mall. Unlike your Bronx, this was a small upstate New York town. My kids read and will always read and will love the books they read now the best–I can already see it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *