Keep Moving Forward
Hello! Its been a while hasn't it? Sorry about that. Sometimes it's hard for me to imagine that there's anyone out here that is interested in my musings... Which is probably not the best mental practice for an author, is it?
On that note, I thought I'd share one of my more recent writing related musings. Recently, my mom and I were discussing the uses of literature. Specifically, Young Adult literature (YA.) It’s something I’ve been mulling over for a few weeks— I mean, obviously longer, because I’m a writer of YA… but… you get me. It’s all still percolating up in the old noggin, but I think it’s worth talking about, so here is a post of me basically thinking out loud.
Something I take for granted as a young adult, (quickly zooming up to full-blown-adult) is that the generations which have come before me do not fully understand the struggles of my age. I understand that in many ways it is my generations job to lead the charge on certain issues; to educated ourselves and others.
As a teenager reading YA I looked at the heroes/heroines presented to me, and I took the journey with them. I watched as responsibility and sacrifice were both thrust upon them, and I tended to relate and feel that this was perfectly natural and understandable.
At the age in which we first encounter YA, so many of us are living the experience of looking for examples or guidance in brand new challenges and feeling utterly alone. Adults just don’t understand! How could they? And whether that’s because the adults in our lives have worked their whole lives to implement progress and change and now feel that their job is done and everything is fine… Or because the adults in our lives are simply unbothered and unwilling to accommodate a shift in their comfort levels… It all adds up to the same feeling: this is something we must shoulder without their help.
Something I spend less time thinking about, is that the generations that come after me will rightfully feel the same way about issues that I am either only aware of in a peripheral sense, or totally oblivious to. Such is the march of progress.
As an adult rereading YA I tear out hair out and scream, “Where are your adults? Where is your support? You are so young!” As a writer of YA I want those adults everywhere! I want my characters to look right and left and be met with compassion and understanding, because that’s what I want to offer to the next generation.
Unfortunately, when you’re writing YA you have to keep those purely helpful and supportive adults to a minimum. The job that YA has is to prepare young people. Often that preparation is for the inevitability that their ideas will be too “radical” for the current status quo. YA must set the expectation that many established adults will not understand at best and will be resistant at worst. That’s the nature of progress.
A young adult novel which does not prepare young adults to conquer dragons on their own, but rather insists that someone older and wiser will do the job does a disservice to the reader, and to society, I think. It sets this precedent that if the adults around a protagonist (and thusly the reader) are not supportive, than their ideas are flawed, and their mission is unnecessary.
Which is not to say that their need be no good adults. In fact, there should be Good Adults™ peppered in all over the place, and those come in many forms. I don’t think an adult needs to be leading the charge towards change in order to be a good role model, or to provide important lessons.
Think of Hagrid, who is kind and gentle, advocates for self-love, but is also completely oblivious to the plight of house elves all at once, and actively tries to dissuade Hermione from advocating for their freedom. (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by JK Rowling.)
Think of Wyldon, who is an honorable man who believes in his country and in the strength of young people but who must overcome his own prejudices in order to do right by his kingdom and Keladry of Mindelan. (The Protector of the Small series, by Tamora Pierce.)
There’s also Giles, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who offers his deep reservoir of expertise. He provides guidance, and insight, but ultimately trusts that there are some things which Buffy just knows more about and is better at and in those cases he defers to her.
Even the ones like Mrs. Weasley (sorry, I’m on a Rowling-reread) who try to shield the young people in their lives from the oncoming horrors, because “They are too young to have to face such things!” Forgetting that “the real world,” is not something that starts at eighteen, and that so many of the issues facing “real adults” are the same issues facing young adults.
There are a variety of Good Adults™ to draw from. I think we need to write all kinds. The few purely good for certain, to remind people of what they should be striving to grow into, and what they should be looking for in mentors and in support. Then, also the numerous flawed types, so we can show how to interact with adults who are good, but who don’t quite understand. Because I think we run into those types of adults just as often, if not more often than people with just straight up bad intentions.
I think it is the duty of YA to provide templates for the challenges to come if a person wants to be an engaged citizen. Especially when they have to stand alone (or rather, “alone” with their peers,) against a Big Bad™ but also even when those challenges include disagreeing with the people they love and trust, and who thinks they know better.
I say this full well knowing that though I’m writing a story surrounding young people changing the world, more and more often I will be living the role of the adults. So, this isn’t me saying “Yeah, sometimes adults just don’t understand us!” But more like, “Sometime I will not understand you, and I hope I can give a window into why that is, and a framework to combat it either way. Keep moving forward, because the mission you have is important, even when I don’t understand it.”
So that’s what I’m thinking about. Feel free to leave a comment letting me know what you think about this. Did this make sense? Did it make you think about anything differently? Have you read any interesting articles on the purposes of YA which you would like to share? What is a YA book that you feel helped prepare you for the “real world?”