guest post by rachel leitch | why young adult fiction inspires me
Today's guest post comes from Rachel Leitch, author of “The Odd Duck Society" in Springtime in Surrey! Now, I know most of y'all are YA readers (specifically fantasy), if not YA writers as well, so I'm 100% sure you'll all enjoy what Rachel has to say about YA fiction! Without further ado, Rachel Leith, everybody!
*cue the peppy fanfare and talk show host shimmy*
why young adult fiction inspires me
I’m Rachel Leitch, and I’m so honored to chat with you on Grace’s blog! I’m the author of The Odd Duck Society in Springtime in Surrey.
I mainly write young adult historicals. If you saw my shelves, they’re an interesting mix of creative historicals and quirky, unique fantasies.
The Odd Duck Society has been a lovely change, a little something different swirled in, but it still falls within young adult fiction.
Several months ago, I read an article about why one blogger is not a fan of YA. She stated that it was repetitive, often inappropriate, and rarely to never worthwhile.
I agreed with everything she said in the article—the majority of YA fiction does have one or more of those flaws. But once I stepped away from the article, I couldn’t help but think, “But what about this book? And this author? And this . . .?”
Her observations made her conclude that YA is no longer worthwhile. My observations have made me conclude that YA is wildly worthwhile. While she sees these weaknesses of the genre as a whole, I’m immersed in that genre and can see all the authors trying to change it.
Here are three reasons why YA fiction inspires me and why I chose to write The Odd Duck Society from a young adult’s perspective.
YA is more creative than other genres.
I see originality in YA books that I don’t see anywhere else.
Who else would have thought to recreate the story of Guy Fawkes in a version of 1600’s England where everyone can control colors? (Fawkes by Nadine Brandes)
As adults (and I can say that because technically I am one), we suddenly find ourselves boxed in by certain expectations. If you don’t conform to those expectations, you become the spectacle of much scrutiny and concern. As a result, we often become worried about fulfilling those expectations and lose sight of our childhood whimsy.
YA strips all those expectations away. It’s a safe space to break the rules, to be crazy, to be weird, to bounce off the walls, to learn to fly.
YA is more open-minded than any other genre I’ve experienced. Authors and readers alike try things that seem ludicrous and risky, that seem like they would never work.
Sometimes those things flop. And sometimes those things become our next favorite read, stories we carry with us the rest of our lives.
We’ll try anything. And if it doesn’t work, we’ll pick ourselves back up and try something different.
In the words of Angela Lansbury (Mary Poppins Returns), we “choose the secret we know before life makes us grow. There’s nowhere to go but up.”
YA is willing to discuss the hard things of life.
People complain that YA is entirely inappropriate. So is anything else. You will never find a genre of book where you do not find both ends of the spectrum—wildly inappropriate books and squeaky clean books and everything in between.
People go harder on YA because of the age it’s written for, and it makes sense. YA targets the most formative years in a person’s life. The wrong books can have a terrible influence.
But the right books can have all the influence.
Which is why it’s such a big deal that YA is frank about the hardest things in life. (That’s one thing that excites me about Springtime in Surrey—it’s committed to finding hope in those hard things.)
More than any other genre I’ve seen, YA discusses topics such as abuse, depression, anxiety, suicide, self-harm, divorce, sexuality, disabilities, bullying, and mental health.
As we grow up, we’re expected (or we believe we’re expected) to have it all figured out. When someone asks “how are you,” we’re supposed to be able to wholeheartedly answer “fine.”
YA doesn’t expect that. It lets you be a mess, because sometimes it’s messy, too. And it sits next to you in it. Maybe it helps you find a way out. Maybe it just points to a firefly in the corner. Maybe it just sits in the quiet for a while.
Though some people immediately leapt upon Kara Swanson’s Shadow, claiming it was too dark, that book touched me in a way not many stories ever have. I was going through something extremely hard and all the feelings that came with it. I understood a shadow tearing me apart. And that book came alongside me and helped me find the light in the darkness. I still read that book when I’m discouraged.
Has YA failed in some of its representation of this hard stuff? Absolutely. For instance, the book Thirteen Reasons Why and the resulting TV show were meant to come alongside suicidal people and instead wound up glamorizing suicidal thoughts and actions. And that’s only one example.
But at least they’re willing to talk about it. At least they let you be not okay and don’t judge you for it. At least they try.
And if more people committed to using this power for the most good that they can? Can you even imagine?
YA brings deep messages into no man’s land.
An Academy Award winning director once claimed that Marvel Cinematic Universe movies “aren’t cinema.” Other directors and actors concurred that it “diminished quality of films” and that watching one didn’t gain anything, enlighten you, or inspire you at all.
MCU actors immediately countered.
“I’ve made Marvel movies and I’ve also made movies that have been in the conversation in the world of the Oscars, and the only difference, really, is one is much more expensive than the other. But the way I break down the character, the way the director etches out the arc of the story and characters — it’s all the same, just done on a different scale." (Tom Holland)
“I think that Marvel films are so popular because they’re really entertaining and people desire entertainment when they have their special time after work, after dealing with their hardships in real life." (Natalie Portman)
“I would say art is subjective, and so it is artistic to make a big project superhero film for sure — it's just a different type of art." (Karen Gillan)
YA is the same way.
Read those quotes again, but put YA in the blanks where it says Marvel films.
We’re like the MCU. We’re seen as a lesser form of storytelling because we like whimsical worlds and epic battles. We’re seen as nothing more than entertainment. It corresponds with what today’s world tends to believes about young people—that we’re shallow, that we have nothing of value to say.
But, between most Academy Award nominated films and, say, The Avengers, which one are you more likely to have seen? So, which one has been more likely to speak to you?
People look for a fun, whimsical story after a long day of being human. It gets our foot in the door, it gets us in.
Once we’re in, whimsy speaks to people like nothing else can. Whimsy just might be one of the deepest things there is—it says what we’re never allowed to speak aloud without ever saying a word.
This is why I write YA. This is why I write at all.
God is still up to His elbows in YA. He works through books whether or not they acknowledge Him, so imagine what He can do with books that do, whether explicitly or implicitly. He's not done with YA, and He has given YA unique qualities to reach people in their most formative years.
I'm honored that He has called me to be a part of this mission.
The Odd Duck Society is the next step of that mission, and I’m so excited to come alongside other authors who have a heart for all readers of all ages.
~ the author ~
Rachel Leitch lives her own adventure in northern Indiana, with her parents, three sisters, two brothers, and a dog who thinks he’s the hero of her story. She writes young adult historicals with a dash of adventure or a spark of magic. When she’s not hidden away writing, she’s trying to fit all her reads on her shelf in a somewhat organized manner, obsessing over character arcs, drinking chai, daydreaming at the piano, or teaching students to be just as bookish as she is. In all her adventures, she learns how to shine brighter for the Father of Lights.
~ the anthology ~
Springtime in Surrey, the first collection releasing with Wild Blue Wonder Press, is a Christian anthology featuring eight lovely stories. With a mix of historical and contemporary, romance and women’s fiction, a dash of mystery here and there, real-life themes presented in a loving way, and a vintage feel, this story is sure to charm lovers of Christian women’s fiction.
Learn more at Wild Blue Wonder Press!
There are few genres as complicated as YA. Oftentimes, we lose faith in the genre (like the blogger Rachel mentioned in the beginning of her post) when we look at the hyper-sexual adult books being marketed as YA or the childish, poorly written books out there. But we shouldn't let all those bad apples spoil the whole bunch of amazing opportunities YA presents to us! How many of us read YA? How many of us fell in love with reading at that age of 13-18 or in reading YA novels? *watches for the show of hands*
That's what I thought.
There's room for revival in YA, folks! Like Rachel says, “God is up to His elbows in YA." So readers, promote those edifying YA novels. And writers, write YA stories that uplift and inspire. To get started, y'all drop the titles of your favorite YA books - and why you love them so much - down in the comments! We'd love to hear your recommendations!
Let us know what you thought of Rachel's post, and don't forget to check out Springtime in Surrey! 😊