Reading and Writing Young Adult

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

One of my biggest dreams was to earn a Masters in Creative Writing. I know getting one doesn't necessarily mean I'll be a better writer but I've always wanted to rub shoulders with fellow writers and soak in a learning environment where people are encouraged to create and explore. So, when I discovered Tabor College's Creative Writing course, I was psyched. I scanned the curriculum and deemed it a very practical (they teach you to write, hey!) and non-hoity-toity. (I avoid snobbish Creative Writing courses that poo-poo genre fiction and demand that you write book-length exegesis about literary works that put you to sleep.)

However, when I discovered that the first course available was "Writing Young Adult fiction", I thought, maybe I should wait for another subject to come by.

Young Adult is my least favourite genre. Years of Twilight exposure did not endear me to it, self-absorbed teens irritate the frak out of me and I did not have the tiniest desire to write in the genre. I have always found it puzzling that some adults read YA; I felt that it's for kids and felt that I've outgrown the genre.

I thought back to my unconventional reading childhood. I didn't really grow up reading the usual suspects: Enid Blyton, Dr Seuss or what not. My community library had an unusual collection of books for kids, and my first book from the library was about Mathematics. I was totally in love with it. I wish that translated into amazing mathematical genius on my part, but it didn't. But it sure instilled the love of reading in me for some bizarre reason.

By the time I was 12, I've devoured non-fiction biographies of famous writers and scientists, read the works of Shakespeare (in comic form, less you're too awed and impressed), was introduced to the wonders of Asterix and Obelix and books about astronomy. I suppose you can say in terms of the stuff I read, I grew up too fast ;)

I was only introduced to young adult works after I was 13, and by then I found them rather childish. Some did hold my interest - The Chalet school series (like, who didn't want to study in a chalet up in the hills of Switzerland??), the Hardy Boys (I had a crush on them boys), Sweet Valley High (only because I wanted Jessica Wakefield to someday pay for her bitchy ways) and a horror series for YA called Dark Forces (I still love them and miss them and wish they were on Kindle). But mostly I read adult books. Uhm, like Danielle Steel (apparently, I started quite a craze in school without even knowing about it), Isaac Asimov's Foundation series and lots of Stephen King.

I digress.

In the end, what convinced me to enrol in the subject was a) the lecturer is well-known YA author Rosanne Hawke b) because I hated YA. What better way to learn something new than to step out of my comfort zone of science fiction and fantasy? Rosanne's not going to preach to the converted, that's for sure!

Rosanne promised me that she'd change my mind about YA by the end of the semester. I had serious doubts. Half a semester passed and I found myself plodding through the selected novels and those that I've come across from the library. I was no closer to liking YA at all. I had a "meh" reaction to most of the novels. This is not good.

Frustrated, I shared my "despair" with the class.They gave me an idea: Perhaps you're not reading the right genre? Then I realised something: Young Adult is an umbrella genre with different kinds of genres beneath it. What I've been reading was literary YA, or most notably - YA fiction set firmly in reality.

I had to do a facepalm then because I have always shied away from realistic fiction. There's always some element of fantastic in my stories - the ones I read and write. I think it's because stories are a way for me to escape, and even if I want to process real issues, I'd like to explore them in a world removed from mine. After a tough day at work I'd have enough of the real world, so it made sense to escape into something different. My brain just shuts down if it's not speculative fiction.

Fuelled by the suggestions, I visited Goodreads for suggestions and found Neal Shusterman's Unwind, a sci-fi, dystopian YA.

Well, I was lucky. Shusterman's Unwind had a very compelling premise: What if unwanted teens are sent of to organ-harvesting farms by their parents? Better, it was well-written and wonderfully plotted. And I ended up reading the novel in a few hours. Now, this is a marked improvement. Before, I had to schedule my reading by chapters per day for the assigned readings. It felt like work rather than pleasure.

Well, it looks like there's some hope for me after all.

I am starting to think that my attitude towards YA came about because I prejudged the genre. Perhaps if I worked on removing this judgement, I'd be more open to literary YA or YA set outside my comfort zone genre. Until then, I'll just explore the sci-fi/fantasy YA out there ;)