As those of you familiar with my blog already know, for someone with a master’s degree in English, I’ve read appallingly few of what the world considers important books, or Great Books. There are several reasons for this, but the main one is simply: I read for fun. When I pick up a book, it’s for entertainment, and so I seek out books that let me escape into a world I want to spend time in. How often have you read the summary of a work of fiction – either on the book jacket flap, or on Amazon or Goodreads – and thought, “That doesn’t sound like much fun at all”? So many of the books on the all-time bestseller list are tedious, depressing, or even gut-wrenchingly horrifying, but we nonetheless feel duty-bound to read them.
Now, I get that escapism is in the eye of the beholder. I typically find it in autobiographies of famous people, fantasy adventures, and YA novels, but some people like to lose themselves in a good mystery or thriller – some even devour true crime. For me, it’s no fun to track down a killer, and I don’t identify with most detective-type characters. Which leads me to another reason I’m drawn to YA: I tend to identify with teen protagonists more than adult ones. This could be because I’m delightfully young at heart. Or it could be a case of arrested development, possibly caused by losing my mother when I was 12. Whatever the reason, I love how a well-drawn teenage character embodies the passion, earnestness and naivety we all have as young people – even young people who have to grow up too fast.
I love the world of high school as well: how its inhabitants think of themselves as grown up but are also keenly aware that there’s an “adult world” they have no (or limited) access to, how they yearn to be free from parental and academic restrictions but meanwhile, acceptance by (and romance among) their peers is of paramount importance. I am frequently inspired by movies, TV shows, plays and musicals that give a glimpse into the tight-knit communities that young people form in order to cope with these inner conflicts. I try to imagine what their day-to-day lives are like, how they decide what to wear, what conversations they have. My novel “The Freedom Dreamers” started as this type of thought experiment: what was it like to be a teenage girl caught up in the hippie lifestyle in the 1960s? And when I couldn’t find any novels at my library that satisfactorily portrayed that vision, I was still so entranced with the idea that I had to write one for myself.
So, that, in a nutshell, is why I love to read and write YA: to escape into a world where the characters, even if (especially if!) their external circumstances are very different from mine, feel like me – the most driven, idealistic version of me, bursting with untapped potential. What’s your favorite genre, and what do you love about it?
Post inspired by: For Posterity