For as long as I've been writing YA, there have been articles in various publications in which the journalist scratches their head and asks, "Why is YA so popular?" There have also been those articles decrying the "darkness" of YA or the "stupidity" of YA or whatever is the flavor of criticism for the week.
Truth is? These articles never really bother me. Because I know they're missing the point. I know they don't quite see the big "secret" standing right in front of them. But I get why YA has exploded, why it's important, and today I want to talk about that and how being a YA author has personally affected my life and the lives of those around me.
We're a little mangy here, but this is a picture of my little sister and me at a writer's retreat last year. Yes, I have a 13-year-old sister. She was born when I was a teen myself, at the end of my freshman year in high school. But despite the age difference, Pika (I nicknamed her Pikachu as a baby and still tend to call her that) has always had a very special place in my heart. She is such an amazing, strong, vibrant girl—I am the proudest big sister ever (of all my siblings, really, but this one is about Pika).
And this is the story: My sister did not like reading in elementary school. It was a chore, not a pleasure. My mom would make her do her required minutes each day, but my sister had never fallen for a book. Middle Grade just didn't strike her fancy for whatever reason (I was the same way at her age, actually.).
When she was 11, my dear friend Kiersten White debuted with her first novel, PARANORMALCY. The fact that my sister knew she was my friend piqued her interest, and she decided to try and read about Evie and her crazy world at IPCA.
And guess what? That was the first time my sister ever finished an entire book of her own free will. She LOVED it. She couldn't stop thinking about it. She asked me for more—she wanted more, more, more. (And I gave her HEX HALL because Evie and Sophie are BFFs in my head. She LOVED that, too.)
I had never seen her so excited about a book in my entire life, and in that moment I realized a reader had been born. A girl who couldn't have cared less about books, who was a "slow reader," who didn't think there were novels out there for her—this girl now consistently reads books in a day or two. She always has a novel with her, and she loves reading. I'm pretty sure she reads more books than I do!
This story still makes me cry every time I think about it.
Because it is not stretching to say that PARANORMALCY changed my sister's life in a very real way. YA has changed her life. It has given her novels that mean the world to her, with heroines she can identify with, who face problems she does but also ones I hope she never runs into. It has given her worlds to explore, and something to share with me and her friends and my mother (also a huge reader).
This is why I'm proud to write YA. This is why those articles don't get to me, because they just don't get it. YA is popular because it fills a need—it speaks to girls like my sister (yes, the genre is female dominant, please no arguments about whether or not that is a good thing), and not just girls but a slew of women who craved this kind of book but didn't have it in such plenty growing up. And not only that, but it's something girls want to share. My sister has all her friends reading, and they have something to talk about that isn't gossip or reality TV. YA has created community; it has created a new generation of readers that will someday grow into adult readers. We should all be ecstatic about that.
Many writers dream about hitting lists or winning awards. But when I look at my sweet, littlest sister, I know that her story is the one that matters most. If my books could do for one teen what PARANORMALCY did for her, then I will consider myself a success. There is nothing more important to me than helping someone fall in love with reading.