Unfortunately, a large number of people hold some damaging ideas about how YA lit works... or doesn't work. For example, YA as a category has been critiqued by many adult readers and others in the industry as being "the same as adult lit" and not needing its own label. While to an extent this is true, I think many teenagers and young adults like having something labelled for them, something more familiar and safe. The main definition for YA is that it's for ages 13-19 or so, but many younger and older readers also indulge in it. Therefore, it's easier to define YA as not just a book for a teenage audience, but one in which the main character is within the specified age range. This is vital, because having someone your own age in a book to relate to is what keeps many people reading. That's the power of characterization.
A similar issue comes with book snobs, who like to put down anything that isn't considered high literary fiction. Unfortunately, this sector seems to especially exclude anything in the YA or children's market, as if books for younger readers don't have literary value, and can only be commercial (I will be discussing why book snobbery in general is a bad idea in a later post.) This is terribly untrue. YA has much value on the market, and young adults are just as varied people as adults. Their books, then, must ideally have the same variation and depth.
Another terrible misconception about YA lit is one that is accepted by those who support YA lit as much as by those who dislike it. This misconception? That teenage literature must invariably be about sex, drugs, and rock + roll.
If you want your literature to be as varied as you are, pigeonholing your age group into a certain set of topics is not at all effective. Luckily, there are many YA books out there which aren't just about "dark" or "edgy" topics, many genre and literary and commercial books that cover every sort of topic out there.
Let's keep it that way, instead of letting the stereotype drag the genre down.
This last misconception has been a huge problem for me as a young writer, which is why I wrote this post. When someone has a contest or a website or a community for young adult writers, what they expect and what they are looking for is almost inevitably something edgy and dark. Something stereotypical. Because not only can teens not read normal literature, they can't write it, right? Take a look at awards designed for teen writers, and I can bet you, the resulting winners will probably have something to do with drugs, sex, suicide, or, completely alternately, going to Africa to save the starving children.
If this is how we raise the next generation of writers to work, we're going to end up with a very pigeonholed, limited, and dark selection of YA lit that will live right up to all the misconceptions I'm fighting against. So let artists make art in the YA realm that goes beyond what society expects.
Break the stereotypes.
Image via weheartit.com.