And why write it?
This is just a question I was thinking about lately, and figured I'd jot down some thoughts. You see, 'genre' is an interesting concept which so many people seem to get wrong.
Genre doesn't define content; content defines genre.
In other words, no good 'Young Adult' book (since that's the category I'm discussing today) began with the author thinking: "I'd like to write a YA novel. What elements do I need to put in to make it YA?"
Many writers do, indeed, think like that. But not the good ones.
Writing YA isn't about taking some of the staples of the genre (dystopian future, strong female protagonist, vampires) and figuring out a plot you can build around them. This only leads to inferior fiction. No, instead 'Young Adult' fiction is merely fiction that is about being a young adult.
It's about writing your story in such a way that it is defined by the experience of being a teen (or person of similar age). Not about featuring teenagers; rather, it is about being a teenager. The entire subjective experience should be the way an actual young person views and chooses in the world. This is what makes a YA story, not the plot elements.
So why write YA? Why is the young adult experience such a popular topic for authors and readers alike? My guess is that the experience of 'coming of age', of being right at the point in one's life where one is transitioning from dependency to autonomy, is simply the most inherently dramatically rich period to form a story around.
This is a time when emotions are at their height, when the weight of the future first begins to burden a young mind, when the person they will be for the duration of their lives begins to fully take form. Obviously, this makes for a vast well of story potential to be mined.
And adults - who are actually the main consumers of YA fiction - will connect with the material every bit as powerfully as those who are going through the same experience depicted in the story. We have all been that age, and any story that properly conjures up the reality of having been that age will bring us older folks back to when we felt the exact same way.
One of my favorite movies is Where the Wild Things Are. It is based on a young children's book, and is about the experience of being a young child. But is not for young children.
Oh, there is nothing there that is unsuitable for kids. I just don't think it caters to them particularly. It doesn't speak to them in any strong way, because its purpose is to remind us who have left that period behind of exactly what it felt like to be a kid. What we went through, the way the world treated us. It reminds us of that time, and helps us relate to those who are currently children.
Kids don't need that. They're already living it. It's the rest of us that sometimes need to be reminded of just what a fearsome and difficult time childhood actually is (or can be).
That's what I like about YA, and why I choose to write it. It is, in a basic way, about being at a time in our lives that defined us, that we struggled through, that we sometimes find it all too easy to forget.
And sometimes it has vampires in it.