Young-Adult Fiction – A Good Story or a Morality Tale

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I’m a bit confused by the genre young-adult fiction. When I was younger I never heard of a specific group of books just for me. I read whatever I could get my hands on – my mom did draw the line when I came home with a trashy Mandingo paperback I found in a closet at a friend’s house. There were limits to even my mother’s idea that a kid reading anything at all must be a good thing.

Wikipedia defines this type of literature as: written about, for, and marketed to young adults aged twelve to eighteen.

I went on a search for books in this genre that I could download to my Kindle. I have been reading self-published books lately in the hope that I could write a couple of Amazon reviews. One good turn deserves another – I hope someday that someone might read my novel and give an honest review on Amazon. Because, believe me, that is the only type of review anyone would get from me.

I feel OK saying what I’m about to say on the public forum of my blog because I’m not going to mention any author or book title – no one knows how many books I’ve downloaded and read or how many reviews I’ve done. I’ll just say that I’ve read more than I’ve reviewed. That is because I will only give an authentic review and I will never name and trash anyone online.

Back to the idea of young-adult fiction – I’ve read three examples this past week. I know that’s not enough to make a definitive statement and believe me, that isn’t what I’m trying to do. I’m writing in an attempt to work through my own thoughts.

I believe young-adult fiction should be written for the same reason any good piece of fiction is written. It should be entertaining, it should tell a darn good story, and it should allow the reader to gain an insight of some type – either into themselves, other people, the world they live in, or the world that others inhabit. Two of the three books I have read seem to take a different approach from what I would call good fiction. Frankly, I’m not sure these two authors have ever known any young-adults and I’m fairly certain they’ve never actually listened to how young people talk. One is an attempt to jam the ideas that a bible thumping adult would like to hear coming out of a young person’s mouth, down their throat in the form of dialogue that anyone with even a bit of sense knows would never come out of a young person’s mouth. The other simply violated so many rules of good writing that I can’t even comment on the content.

The third book was a story I think I would have enjoyed when I was the suggested age for a reader of young-adult fiction. I would recommend this book and I’m working on an Amazon review.

I can hear people saying – hold it! What about morals and values and shouldn’t there be a place for books that promote positive values for young people. The tricky thing about that is this – whose positive values are we talking about? I’ve heard this kind of rationale before – I guess that’s where all the Christian rock bands came from. I don’t buy any of it – not with stories and not with rock and roll. A story that reflects a young person’s reality, that has young people speaking and acting the way young people do indeed speak and act, can promote positive values.

I believe it would be better to encourage young adults to read well written books that tell good stories and forget about promoting any particular brand of positive values.

Never forget – a story well-told can change a life and a thinly veiled morality tale will always be seen as just that.


(The top photo was taken at the University of Arizona in Tucson, of an art class. The bottom photo was taken on the Stanford Campus in California – just random shots of random people)

17 comments on “Young-Adult Fiction – A Good Story or a Morality Tale

  1. I agree with you. Young people are hungry, desperate for truth and wisdom that works for them in their lives, for a sense of companionship along this journey, and anyone talking down to them is immediately suspect. They have great truth meters, as indeed do we all. Not truthful? Toss it.

  2. LadyGrave says:

    It sounds like you are reading the wrong YA books! I write YA books because I want to write the kind of books that affect teens the way certain books affected me during my teenage years (which were, after all, not so long ago). Also, reading only self-published work might not give you a very good idea for the… “genre” (I hate that term, because to me, YA is an AGE GROUP that contains every genre within it—and I also hate the idea that YA is ONLY for teens or that teens ONLY want to read about teenagers) (although, here is self-published book by a friend of a friend that I would like to read, but I have neither an e-reader nor the cash for a hardcopy. The writing seemed solid in the first few pages at least; maybe you’d be interested: Anyway, have you considered reading some of the recent YA hits/classics to get a feel for what these self-published authors might be trying to achieve? (I have recommendations, but they’re almost all sci-fi or fantasy and that might not be what you’re into.) I absolutely agree with you that a story needs to be a good story, regardless of the age group it’s written. In my more literary circles at college, I always felt that I had to be defensive about my writing choices, because YA sort of has a stigma of being seen as less well-written, more comercial, less *important* than the high literature all my friends were trying to do. I kept having to say, ‘Yes I’m writing for young adults, yes I write about magic, yes this will be on the same shelf as Twilight, but I know what I’m doing and I’m not compromising my writing and I’m telling a real story and I’m making quality work here and it’s just as important as yours.”

    Sorry for the rant; I spend a lot of time thinking about the whole YA concept. I totally agree with your conclusion about well-told stories vs.morality tales, and I hope you find some books that are more worth your time.

    • Thanks, Grace, for such an excellent rant with really good points. First off – great suggestion that I should read something that is seen as top of the heap for YA and see what the other authors are trying to do. I also like the point you make about not thinking YA is a genre so much as books written with a certain age group in mind in any number of genres – also why should teens only want to read about teens. I certainly don’t want to read only about grandmas. Thank you so much for making the effort to rant a bit on my blog on a subject you are very well-versed in – you taught me something and added to the value of this post.

  3. Gwen says:

    Wow – great post. I’ve read a couple books on writing YA fiction, and one of the messages that came through loud and clear in both was: don’t preach. Kids know when they’re being talked down to, and they know when a message is being shoved down their throats. They don’t like it any more than an adult would.

    I guess my take-away from your post is this: know your genre. Know what to do and what to avoid when telling any story. Do your research and become an expert in your genre.

    • In line with what you are saying you will take from this post, Gwen – I hope you get a chance to read Grace’s comment. She is one who has done her homework!

      • Gwen says:

        Yes, I have read the comment! And I’m familiar with the novel she links. I follow the author’s blog.

        Some YA novels are known as “crossovers” – the protags are teens/young adults, but the story appeals to all age groups. The Hunger Games series is an example.

  4. My kids are in that age group… I don’t let them read most

  5. Heather says:

    FRan, I read your posts as soon as they appear..I rarely respond because you cause me to think so much..then I don’t have time to respond.
    As to the post today, I can’t believe that you are writing on Super Bowl Sunday. If you were to follow some of the professional sports events, teams and players, trust me, you would find a ton of subjects to address. Over 115 million watch the event; that is a huge market for you to try to figure out…such diversity in the market.

    The only reason that I can respond right now is because half the lights went out in the stadium in New Orleans; thus I checked my mail. Reading your post, and being frustrate diwth the “lights out situation”

    • You crack me up!! You’ve got a point though about the huge Super Bowl market – sports fans – think of all the people who could be reading my book right now while waiting for the lights to go back on – oh the missed opportunities. Alas – no TV reception for such things.

  6. Heather says:

    I got cut off. As I was saying, reading your posts and being frustrated with the “lights out” at the Super Bowl stadium, all I could think was “with solar power this would not be a problem”…where is Bruce when you need him? Why didn’t they fly him to New Orleans to have the power souorce for a day that is almost considered a holiday in the good old U.S of A.
    Really , thinking and writing on Super Bowl Sunday…I do question your decison.

  7. YA lit is my favorite genre, by far. It always has been…though I’m realizing that “Middle Grade” is also a favorite – that being the ages of like 8-11. The book I’m writing is that Middle Grade age-range. I may not ever write for it again, but I couldn’t stop myself this time! I agree that thinly-veiled morality tales are going to be seen as such, though I admit that I won’t let my daughter read the Twilight books because I don’t think they’re appropriate – not the vampire aspect, but the sexual tension aspect of it…but I’m a bit overly-stressed about that, perhaps. I just don’t need her to be going there yet!!!

    • From reading the comments I’ve received, I know I have to go out and check this genre out with much more vigor. I totally hear what you are saying about making wise choices about what your daughter reads.

  8. ashleecowles says:

    Great post! I agree that the “moral of the story” shouldn’t be shoved down the readers throat and teen readers know when an adult author is taking on a YA voice just to “send them a message.” That said, I think most good stories do have some kind of message, theme, or insight into human nature that sticks with us (but it’s such a part of the story and characters that you can just pick it out and sum it up in one sentence). I don’t think it’s possible for any writer (or human being, for that matter) to be “neutral” since we all have assumptions and beliefs about the world we live in that will naturally color our writing. All the stories I love and continue to carry with me years after reading them–whether written for adults or young adults–were stories about something that mattered and involved vividly real characters…but this kind of storytelling gets ruined when the page simply becomes a pulpit!

    • Great point – no author can be neutral. We always come from a standpoint – it can’t be otherwise. And of course it is the author’s passion that makes the story stay with us. Thanks so much for entering into this discussion. The great comments I’ve got on this post have really humbled me.

  9. I thought of this jewel of a YA novel while considering what little I know of your interests. I have never read a more graceful (and funny and perfect) expression of respect for the capacity of traumatized children to heal one another than a relatively short novel entitled The Planet of Junior Brown. It was written by Virginia Hamilton, who’s permanently on the top of the YA heap. The solutions achieved by her characters are to some extent larger than life, but the triumphs that animate them are not.

    Another masterpiece is Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, also a YA aristocrat.

    You’ve got a nice blog here. I’ve recently been following your husband, and popped over at his suggestion. I’m glad I did!


    P.S. I know I don’t have to warn you about the mind-deadening glut of boarding school vampire romances

    • Thanks so much, Claire, for stopping by and for reminding me of a couple of well-done books in the YA genre. Definitely, they are out there. I’ll look for Spinelli – a YA aristocrat seems high praise, indeed. I’m glad you popped over and hope to see you again.

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