I have to admit, I never really thought much about writing in the YA sphere. However my latest completed work is a mature young adult/adult novel. And the series I am plotting out next is also YA. I'm actually really enjoying writing for that age group. That being said, more YA things are coming into my radar just lately. I read this post on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website, and it got me thinking...
Did you check it out? Yes? Good. No? I'll summarize: basically the author is commenting on how science fiction for younger audiences has become all about dystopia and apocalypse, and that it isn't the uplifting and inspiring thing that it used to be. I have some thoughts on this, and some questions.
First of all, he mentions adults putting their angst into books for young adults. This might not have been his intent, but for me what that statement implied was that adults are giving our anxieties to the young adults reading the books when really we should be conveying more positive messages. So, my question:
Do authors of young adult fiction have a responsibility to instill morals into our books?
Or, should writers simply write what readers seem to enjoy/want more of?
I have some thoughts about this. I want to preface by saying that I don't think the answers to these questions are right/wrong or absolute by any means. So, my thoughts. I think if you look back through history, when times are tough people's interests in movies, books, etc. gets darker and more gritty. When things get bad we become cranky, cynical things. And can you blame us? When I'm feeling down, I don't want to hear about someone who's life is all glitter and apple pie. I want to see that other people struggle just as I do- I'd like them to have a good ending, because that makes me feel that hey, maybe good things can happen- but I still don't want to read about shiny, happy people.
Now, on to adults foisting angst onto young adults/ children. I think that adults need to be careful of assuming that young adults are children, and that children don't have any of the "darker" feelings that adults have. Nothing could be more wrong. But with time and age, and experience, it's pretty easy to think this way about younger age groups.
But what happens to a teenager when the economy tanks? Mom or Dad loses their job, maybe a divorce happens, maybe the family then loses their house. Meanwhile on the news there's this war going on and all you hear about is killing and torture.
I'm sure you get where I'm going with this. Everything that's stressful to adults is stressful to young adults/ children as well. So, when things are bad, they might have some darker tastes in fiction. I don't think there is anything inherently wrong in writing dark fiction, for young adults in particular. By encouraging them to always smile and be positive and never have any worries, we are creating unrealistic expectations, which can actually be pretty damaging (is there a psychologist in the house?) I think reading about others' struggles can be cathartic.
On the same token, I wouldn't ever encourage writing something just because there is the market for it. But if we are realistic, I think we can all acknowledge that there is a market for dystopian fiction for a younger audience precisely because that is what the audience is hungry for right now.
Personally, I think it will change. When the social environment changes maybe more uplifting things will be more popular. Tastes vary with the times.
Can we weave more positive messages into young adult fiction? Absolutely. But I think we need to be careful not to make that the entire point of the book- it will be obvious, and it will seem like preaching. If someone wants to read a book about morals, they'll hop on over to the non-fiction section. If they want a way to escape, they'll be in the sci-fi/fantasy section.
Oh, and one more point- I think it is also worth noting that writing sci-fi about the apocalypse or some futuristic dystopia is pretty much an instant ticket to tension, conflict, emotion, and alternate world building- all keys of great storytelling. So naturally it follows that this is a popular choice for authors.