It’s no secret that YA is a hot market right now. In fact, according to American Libraries, the journal of the American Library Association, it’s estimated that almost 5,000 titles will be published for this audience in a given year. And while it’s great that young adult readers have choices, the question remains…what truly resonates with teens? What makes a book a hit?
In my work as a high school librarian I’ve seen books that fly off the shelves and circulate constantly; I’ve also seen well-reviewed titles sit on the shelves and collect dust. It’s hit or miss, unless we do what we should always be doing and asking teen readers what they want.
So that’s what I did. And you know what? They want respect.
Sounds simple enough, but when it’s broken down it’s not so easy and it’s definitely not easy to do in a book. Which brings me to my first observation and the most critical piece of advice: If you are writing YA simply to make a sale, to jump on the hot trend, don’t.
One of the things most obvious to teens is when they are being patronized. They can smell it from the adults in front of them, and they can find it on the pages of a novel. They will not respond to preachy-ness, over-blown messages and negative stereotypes. Now, I’m the first one to say that things become clichés for a reason, and yes, teens get in their fair share of trouble, but for the most part the teenagers today are hard-working, motivated individuals who are under a lot of pressure to perform.
When you look at books that are successful, there’s a common thread—strong characters who show love, greatness, compassion and/or intelligence beyond what is expected of them. Cassia, Ky and Xander in Matched (Condie); Quentin from Paper Towns (Green); Brittany and Alex in Perfect Chemistry (Elkeles); Katniss and Peeta in The Hunger Games (Collins) and even the much-maligned Bella from Twilight (Meyer) are characters who have resonated with YA readers and adults as well. Each character, at some moment in the respective books, sheds the self-centeredness we usually ascribe to young adults and allows readers to see they can put the needs of others above themselves. (And yes, naysayers…Bella DOES do this.) This quality of selflessness, of being willing to sacrifice for others, is often the driving force behind a successful young adult book.
As an adult in this YA world I love that kids relate to characters like these. I know there will always be a place for the edgier books, but in these troubled times, many teens are gravitating toward characters who give them hope, who show them they can be greater than they think they can be.
Honestly, shouldn’t we all be looking for that greatness within? 5 winners receive a FREE book every week, comment below — announced on Sunday
Jeannie Moon is a high school librarian from Smithtown, New York who loves that she has a job which allows her to immerse herself in good books and call it work. She is an avid reader of both young adult and adult romance, and spends the time she isn’t in her library spinning romantic tales of her own.