Wednesday, February 28, 2007

What are authors thinking?

Open note to all YA authors-- before you start on your next book, please talk to some actual young adults. Or even people who deal with young adults. If you can't bring yourself to do that, here are some things that I never have any students ask for: (At the bottom, what they DO ask for.)

Novels in verse: They'll check them out, but bring them back and ask what is wrong with the book, especially since most novels in verse aren't really in verse-- they are just chopped up prose. So I won't be buying Stone's A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl. Exception to this: Helen Frost can keep writing, but I'd stick to contemporary issues. Historical novels in verse are a hard sell, even when they are good.

Novels about inner city gang members-- AFTER exciting things happen.Rehabilitation and redemption are all good, but don't start there. It's not exciting. I was relieved when Pagliarulo's A Different Kind of Heat lapsed into curse words. I was bored. Start with the shooting, start with stuff leading up to the shooting, don't start with the therapy in the detention center.

Novels about little known points in history-- I'm all for slow moving, introspective historical novels set in places that the curriculum covers, like the Civil War. Or fast paced, exciting novels set during 1912 mill strikes. But Katherine Paterson picked the worst of all possible worlds with her Bread and Roses, Too. Good in theory, but it's not going to make children like historical fiction.

Novels about anyone who swears three times a page: Likes the idea of Gil's All Fright Diner, and I think it is an adult book, but still. Do we need that much bad language in a book about a vampire and a werewolf. No.

Novels where we don't even meet the main character for 30 pages, especially when the book is only 144 pages long. Abbott's Firegirl was a long shot, anyway-- few children ask for books about sensitive young men who help badly fire-disfigured classmates adjust to school-- but if I wanted to read about that, I don't want to wait that long to meet the classmate.

Novels about quirky dysfunctional people who are not quite able to change themselves. No one ever asks for quirky dysfunctional, and yet about 40% of young adult literature is about that sort of person. Stop already! I should have know from the title of Mark Peter Hughes' I am the Wallpaper that it would fall short, and it doesn't help to have a man write about a girl's struggles with adolescence. Other topics, sure. Just didn't work.

What students ask for: Basketball and football books about students who play the sport and have a few mundane issues in their lives. Notable NO: NO boys who like girls who are secretive about their lives because their mothers have lesbian partners. Just no. And not as much baseball.

Books that are exciting from the very beginning. Things happen. People go places. Cars get blown up. Not saying that people can't sit around and find the meaning of life in their navels (that's the only way to get a Newbery, after all), but have them do it in chapter four after they have sucessfully escaped the evil, drug dealing werewolf skateboard gang.

Girly pink books about fun stuff, with few problems. Problem novels where horrific things happen to children. Don't combine the two.

Humor books. Check humor with actual young adult.

And no quirky dysfunctional. Please.


  1. Dear Ms. Yingling,

    I'm the editor for Gil's All Fright Diner. Actually, we did publish it as an adult book. Since Gil's contains a lot of colorful language, the author and I were both quite surprised when it received an Alex Award.

    Paul Stevens

  2. I'd wonder what are the EDITORS thinking when they BUY the stuff???