Monday, July 2, 2012
INDEPENDENCE AND YA LIT
If I’m to define “independence” in the same way that I think many teens view the term—as a word interchangeable with “adulthood”—I’d have to say that I actually thrust independence on the main characters of both my published YAs.
Take Aura, the MC from my debut, A BLUE SO DARK. Her mother, Grace, suffers from a mental illness. And as the book opens, her mother’s sinking deeper into the darkness of that illness. Grace’s condition leaves Aura to become, in many respects, the parent. The adult. (So much so, Aura and her best friend, Janny, a teen mom herself, come to a new understanding, toward the end of the novel.) Aura, in many ways, longs for a “normal” life—to be the girl who gets to chase after her crush on a cute skater boy, whose deepest worry is regarding an upcoming exam. In short, she wants to worry only about herself—a luxury that often accompanies most teenage years. Instead, Aura has to care for another human being. She’s responsible for that human being (her mother), which is a very adult problem.
Take Chelsea, the MC from my second novel, PLAYING HURT. Her dilemma isn’t quite as dark as Aura’s, but it’s life-altering just the same. Chelsea’s a small-town athlete, a hero on the basketball court—until a horrific accident shatters her hip and ends her basketball career all in the same fell swoop. Again, Chelsea doesn’t ask to be released from the demands of being a teen athlete. She doesn’t want to be freed from the grueling schedule. But she gets it, anyway.
In all likelihood, Aura and Chelsea would find themselves dealing with these scenarios later on in life: Chelsea would absolutely have to learn to deal with life after basketball, and there’s a strong possibility that someday Aura would find herself responsible for another human being, either as a parent or as a friend (I’m not sure it’s really possible to have meaningful, resonant relationships in life and not find yourself caring for others—in many ways, it can be one of the most rewarding aspects of adult life)…
But Aura and Chelsea are thrown into these adult roles, headfirst. They’re tossed into their adulthood in such a way that it can’t really feel like independence at all. I think in many respects, that’s the crux of a good story: by making a character’s world change around them, by forcing a character to adapt to and navigate their new world, you can’t help but illustrate how that character grows, changes, learns. In many respects, I think those curves life tosses often make us who we are—and present a perfect opportunity, in YA literature, for our teen characters to become their best selves.