young adult

Getting the Respect YA Deserves

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By Kim Johnson

What do dystopian, suspense, thrillers, and contemporary romance have in common? A whole lot of awesome if it’s Young Adult fiction.

Being a writer and reader of YA allows me to clench my teeth into a story and push away the busy reality of adulthood. Rewind to a time of awkwardness and self-indulgence– the teenage years.

My favorite passion is YA, but for someone who works in academia, it is often an area that is rife with ridicule from my peers or colleagues. Which is interesting because so many of the issues that are tackled in this genre reflect the layers of issues facing college students– a population I work with on a daily basis. Independence, challenging authority, finding out who you are, struggling with inner demons and secrets, first love and friendships are all plights that are commonalities in fiction and reality.

So why is YA bashed so much?

For my field I get it. I do. My colleagues are in a higher education environment where some of the most intelligent and highbrow conversations are held. The critical thinking minds break down every level of a historical, political, and social context. This excites me. I use theoretical premises in my practice of work and actively participate in this dialogue. I’m well respected in my field and proud of the work I do. But something funny happens when you tell your fellow colleagues you’re writing a book.

Their eyes light up with excitement. Overjoyed that finally there will be a voice of reason within whatever realm I decide to tackle. And then I explain,

Me: “Oh it’s not a non-fiction analysis of higher education.”

Okay. Eyebrows raised. But they still hold hope that whatever I will write will comprise of bettering our chaotic world.

They ask more and I state,

Me: “I’m writing fiction.”

Them: “Yes wonderful. Like the Color Purple, or retelling slave narratives? No let me guess, you’re finally going to write something that will get Tyler Perry out of the market with his ridiculous images of Black women and family relationships?”

Me: “Well no. I’m writing Young Adult Fiction.”

Them: “Huh? Young Adult? Like black youth characters celebrating Obama as President?”

Me: “No more like Twilight. Harry Potter. Hunger Games etc.”

Them: “WHAT? Long lines, teenagers screaming, that sort of thing?”

Me: “I guess if I make it big. But more likely just a good story.”

Them: “Oh. But will your characters be the Black version?”

Me: “Umm there will be diverse characters at times yes.”

Them: “But why would you write this genre when you could…..”

If you’re a writer or reader of this genre you’ve heard it all. Even the most famous YA writers don’t get the respect that they do.

So why do I continue to write in this genre?

Well the answer is I love YA. I hope to demystify what’s expected of a YA book. Excite young people (and oldies like me) to read, and tell an exciting story while addressing certain topics.

When I share this with THEM they wish me luck. But this paradigm I face in writing YA and working in a different field is frustrating. Why is it such a phenomena to struggle getting respect for this genre? If it was fiction similar to Stephen King or James Patterson there wouldn’t be such a shock factor. What challenges have you seen when people find you write or enjoy reading YA. What as YA writers and Readers can we do to change this paradigm? What about those of us who love are craft but are over shadowed by controversial writers that become extremely popular but don’t represent the craft we love and adore so much?