Get Your YA-YAs Out

I start reading a lot of novels and don’t finish them. I can think of at least two ways to interpret this bad habit. One would be, fiction doesn’t really interest me. Another, opposite interpretation would be that my unconscious is getting disgusted and saying, “That’s not how I would do it.”

For reasons that I may talk about at some point, I’ve started reading Young Adult (YA) genre fantasy novels, and forcing myself to finish them. I’ve now made it through two — Mary Hoffman’s Stravaganza: City of Masks and Cinda Chima Williams’s The Demon King. Both of these are first volumes in multi-volume series, and at some point I may be moved to go on with either series. In the meantime, I have half a dozen more first volumes to explore.

Both books are decently written. What they have in common is that the plots are not structured in quite the way that a plot would be structured in a novel for the adult market. In both books, the hero and heroine (one of each, in each book) sort of drift along, carried forward by events in the adult world.

This wouldn’t work in a novel for adults. The idea in the latter, or so I’ve been taught, is that the hero or heroine faces a difficult problem and has to take direct, personal action to solve the problem. The teenagers in both books do indeed take action (more in Demon King, which is written for slightly older readers), but quite often they muddle along in a confused way, wanting only to stay out of trouble and not even sure how to manage that. Eventually good triumphs over evil, but at crucial points in the story the hero and heroine have plenty of help.

I think I understand why. The idea, in YA fiction, is to play up or zoom in on the conflicts that teenagers face. And teenagers live in a world that is defined by adults. They don’t have autonomy. Adults are trying to arrange their lives for them — sometimes for the better, sometimes not. So a novel of palace intrigue in which the princess is forced mostly to watch, uncertain what to do, while the evil wizard puts his evil schemes in motion models in more dramatic form a situation that many teen readers encounter on a daily basis.

Or at least, that’s my current theory. How well it will hold up after I’ve read a few more YA novels — we’ll see.

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