Why have I been so irate? Well, during a conversation with another writer friend this morning, something a third party said was brought up and it was terribly offensive to a) teens b) anyone who's ever been a teen c) people who aren't so far removed from their teen years (like me).
What was this comment, you may ask? Well, it was something to the effect of:
"Kids today (teens) don't care about anything and YA should be dumbed down because of their lack of wanting to read anything of substance."
That was paraphrased, obviously.
As someone who reads (and writes) YA, obviously I had ALL THE FEELINGS when I came across this blasé statement about "today's youth."
One of the main reasons was my age.
Dear, dear interwebs, I'd like to declare a truth to you.
I AM TWENTY TWO YEARS OLD.
I'm about to be 23 (in one week!), and although it's been a while since my high school days, it's not that hard for me to remember the really good times (all of the musicals we did/were able to see on Broadway) and all of the really awkward, somewhat bad times (but hey, they happen to everyone).
You know what I also remember?
How much my classmates cared. About each other, about our school, even about our terrible football team.
But you know what else they cared about?
Politics/Elections (I was a sophomore in high school during the 2004 election, so...yeah)
Hurricane Katrina/relief efforts
Reading every damn book out there.
Learning, understanding the world, understanding ourselves.
Trying to get into a good college/figuring out what to do with our lives.
Giving back to the community.
Some of my most vivid high school memories revolved around the 2004 election. Our teachers engaged us in discussions about what the issues were and what the candidates stood for. For our AP Government class, we were required to attend a political party meeting or volunteer for a campaign. We had to write reports on political broadcasts and shows, and had civil, thoughtful debates in class.
That election is what actually made me care about politics. Going through that class, I decided that I wanted to be informed. I wanted to vote (and I was mad that, at 15, I would have to wait three more years to do so). But it wasn't just me. My point is that all of my classmates were engaged - and still are engaged - in political conversations and are mindful of our civic duties - and it all started in our teen years.
In English class, we poured over Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Morrison, Hurston, Orwell, Huxley and many, many others. We thoughtfully critiqued these works, and, although some of us cared more for certain authors than others, we all cared about what we were reading. We all wanted to understand it. And we all wanted more.
We also were/are dedicated to giving back to others through community service. I loved it so much in high school that, for college, I went to an undergraduate institution with the motto of "Ut Prosim" - which means "That I May Serve." When we weren't working on homework, or rehearsing for musicals/plays/band competitions/practicing to be Women's Basketball State Champs (yeah that happened and it was awesome!), we were doing community service, or working at grocery stores to help support single parent families, or trying so, so, so hard to be perfect - never realizing that "perfect" is this imaginary thing that will never, ever exist.
My point with this rant is that I remember what it's like to be a teen. It can sometimes be confusing and scary to realize "Oh, shit. I'm going to college soon/not going to college and will have to get a job/I have no idea what I'm going to do with my life." It's overwhelming to know that you have your whole life in front of you. And then, when everyone constantly asks what your plan is, and stand there with or without any kind of solid answer, life can be equal parts frustrating and terrifying.
Although I am a few years removed from teen-dom, I'm going to just get out there and say it.
I write YA because I think teens are awesome.
I write YA because I remember what it's like to be a teen.
I write YA because I want to help others (and myself) make sense of this often senseless world.
Something that's bothered me lately is when I hear people say that they've decided to write YA because it's "hot/what will sell/etc." Every time I hear this, I have to fight the urge to shake these people. In my humble opinion, I think you should write what you love, because you love it. Yeah, being published would be awesome. But what's the point in reaching your goals if you do it half-heartedly? If you're not putting your heart and soul into something, I know, I KNOW teens will be smart enough to see right through it.
And the same goes with being "preachy" because you want to teach teens "good morals" or whatever other reason people give for doing something like that.
Instead, I encourage you to write something meaningful. Write something that will help someone see things through another lens, or help someone cope through a difficult time, get them to think through a tough decision, or show them that it's ok to make mistakes. Write about what it means to be human, - to grow, to grieve, to succeed, to fail. Write because people out there (especially teens) LOVE to read.
My only caveat is that you don't write down to anyone. Because, while teens (and all other ages groups) LOVE to read, they LOVE to read things that make them think, that are worthwhile, that are meant for them.
At my high school, we all craved well-constructed escapes from different pressures. Whether someone was wondering if her mom was going to make it through chemotherapy, struggling to maintain their valedictorian status, or understanding why their parents were getting a divorce, we all had something to get through. We all needed someway to cope.
But, most of all, we just wanted to know that someone cared.
I write YA because I care. And if I'm able to make one small difference in someone's life, then I think I'll have done my job right.
So to Hell with writing something because you want to be the next "Hunger Games" or "Twilight." And to Hell with the ridiculous generalization that teens are totally apathetic towards everything and DON'T CARE about what they read. They do care about the world and the things happening in it.
And, as YA writers, we should care that they care.
So, if you write something, write something that will speak to teens. TO them. Not AT them. Write something that you love, and are proud of.
Because chances are if you love it, they will too :)