Thursday, August 9, 2012

Remembering When

One of the things that I think can make or break a YA author is how well they remember and connect with their own teenage years. It's one of the reasons a lot of people right out of college do really well with YA--their teen years aren't that far behind them and a lot of the adult stuff is either new or hasn't happened yet.

I did a rather angry post yesterday at the Evil League of Evil Writers about life experiences and how they affect authors. One point I made is that everyone's life is different; even when we experience the same things, we likely will change in different ways in the aftermath. "Adult" experiences ("real job," marriage, children, divorce, etc) tend to pull people further and further away from that connection to their youth--unless they actively fight against it.

The book I was reading last week is by an author I've read for years. Over the last few books, I've really started to question her "YA brain." She had her female characters doing things and behaving in such ways that it made them (for me) stupid and rather unlikeable. Everything from the way a breakup was handled to weight issues to not understanding how someone could be hurt by betrayal.

Here's the thing... I remember being a teenager pretty well. Everything is bigger then. The highs are higher, the lows lower, and someone's world is going to end pretty much every week. At least this was my high school experience.

But all of us "got it." There was no "you two broke up three months ago, you should be over it." There might be a nudge toward the cute guy behind door number three, but not "get over it" attitude. When someone (male or female) dumped their girlfriend/boyfriend in a horrible way... people reacted. Sure, their friends might've stood by them. (And even there, sometimes there's irritation and anger. For example, I broke up with a guy--after a couple days--because kissing him felt like kissing a relative. My friends who were friendly with him as well weren't exactly happy with me.) But the jiltee's friends? No. They would want the jilter's head on a platter with a side of fries, thank you very much.

And, the level of this anger is in direct correlation to how long the couple dated, how long one wanted to date the other. Those things matter, and most teenagers (especially most teenage girls) wouldn't brush them aside.

Adults do that.

And the minute teen characters (no matter how responsible they might be) start to act like adults in those instances, they lose credibility for me. And so does the author.

I know YA fiction is hot right now, and a lot of agents and editors are dying for some quality middle grade novels, but... if an author can't deeply connect with that part of their past, it shows. It's been showing with this particular author for the last three books... maybe even four. The result is that I'm torn with continuing to buy the books. I'm emotionally invested in one character, but I'm not sure my wallet cares enough to find out what happens to him in a world where teenagers seem to have forgotten how to be teenagers.

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