I recently read an article that criticized love and first sight and anything beyond “pure” romance in YA novels (I guess that means anything beyond chaste kissing?). It made me a little angry. Not as a writer. As a former young adult.
I remember being a teenager. Do you?
The writer claimed the best YA romances start out as friendships, then turn into romance (chaste romance).
First of all, boring. “Hello friend I have mutual respect and admiration for. I believe we may be compatible for some hand holding and sipping a single soda from two straws. Do you concur?”
Secondly, sure. It happens all the time. But its not the only way it happens in real life. Maybe not love at first sight, but I’m sure everyone remembers their teenage selves setting eyes on someone and getting hit by that thunderbolt that started a devastating crush. That is realistic. That is interesting. It is something every now teenager has known and felt down to their cores. And we want our novels to be realistic, don’t we?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and I’ll probably eventually dedicate an entire post to it), you need to respect your reader. You need to respect their intelligence. You need to respect their priorities. You need to respect their world. If you choose to write a YA novel, you need to respect young adults, not as hormone ridden morons who only care about clothes and think their parents are so unfair. As adults who are young.
That means avoid the preaching. If you think kids should avoid sex and sexual situations, make that a relevant point in your character’s life. Yes. There are many teenagers who believe the same thing. But don’t act like these are not issues at all. Even honor roll, Christian, animal shelter volunteers’ face temptation and turmoil when it comes to sex.
Don’t downplay their issues. Its really tempting to just give your characters a great relationship with their parents. They’re good kids with cool parents. Everyone gets along. But Is that realistic? Even good kids fight with their parents, resent them, want them to give them room to breath, or feel the pressure of their expectations.
Remember your younger self. This is a big one. Once upon a time everything “adult” was new to you. It wasn’t always an easy transition. It wasn’t always fun. It came with heartbreak so devastating it felt like you were actually going to die. It came with elation so high you would ride on it for weeks. These are not things to roll your eyes at. They are the beautiful pieces of growing up and they are the things we try to capture for our reader, to relate to them, to give them a place where they retreat from the pressures of their lives, and yes, their lives do have pressures, even if we, as adults, do not think they measure up to ours.
So before you write you YA novel, ask yourself, do you respect teenagers? Do you remember what it was like to be one? Can you write a story that doesn’t idealize their lives, downplay their issues, or make them feel like their natural urges are wrong? Do you want to?