by Carolee Dean
I started writing stories for young people before Harry Potter and Twilight made it fashionable to do so, before there was the dystopian world of Hunger Games, before adults were scouring the young adult shelves and writing blogs focused exclusively on teen titles. Before there were blogs. Now teen fiction is hot, but back when I envisioned my first stories, there was no Printz Award to honor books in that murky world just beyond the Newbery but not yet in the realm of adult literature. One friend asked, “Why are you writing for teenagers? You could be putting your work out to a larger audience.” Now, ironically, young adult fiction is that “larger audience.” With popular teen sales skyrocketing, it is often the children’s section of publishing houses that carry them through recessions and economic down turns. More and more adults are reading stories with children and teens as protagonists. This phenomenon became popular with Harry Potter when the British publisher marketed one cover for adults and another cover for children. They wisely realized that adults love books with young heroes, but are not always so crazy about the covers. Now with the invention of the Kindle, the adult audience for children’s books is expanding. Note the cover of my book, Take Me There. The cover was designed for teens and focuses on the romance in the story, but this novel is also a coming-of-age tale of a boy who goes on a journey to reunite with his estranged father who is in prison in Texas. Many segments are written from the father’s point of view, a man convicted of murder, who taught himself to read and write in prison. Kindle sales, which still largely reflect an adult audience, are soaring. The fascination of adult readers with child and teen protagonists became apparent with Harry Potter and Twilight, but it is actually a long-standing phenomenon. Charles Dickens wrote several stories with young people as central characters including Oliver Twist and David Copperfield. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Kidnapped. Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women and the companion books that followed. Consider all the classics written from a young point of view. Try to imagine To Kill a Mockingbird told from an adult perspective. Many contemporary books written for adults include one or more key teen characters. Consider the steamy teen romance that forms the back story of The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks or the many great books by Jodi Picoult that juxtapose teen and adult viewpoints within the same family. There are many reasons why these stories are so compelling. The teenage years are a time of angst and discovery. Teen perspectives are fresh and new and contain all the wonder and heartache of first love and first encounters—the beautiful budding of lifetime friendships as well as the bitter agony of betrayal. They explore the growing realization of the wonders and disappointments of the adult world. Teen stories are compelling because teens stand at a crossroads where childhood intersects with paths of infinite possibility, yet, as we all know, once you start down one of those paths, its not so easy to change your course. The stakes are high in these stories. That’s what makes them so fun to read…and so fun to write.
Carolee Dean is a board certified speech-language pathologist and the author of three young adult novels: Comfort (Houghton Mifflin, 2002), Take Me There (Simon Pulse, 2010) and the paranormal verse novel Forget Me Not (Simon Pulse, 2012). She holds a bachelor’s degree in music therapy and a master’s degree in communicative disorders. She has spent over a decade working in the public schools and has also worked with teens in a psychiatric hospital and a head trauma rehabilitation unit. Carolee currently serves as the Vice President of the Southwest Branch of the International Dyslexia Association. Visit her at caroleedeanbooks.blogspot.com.
This article was originally published in the July 2012 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.
Charlie Dean gave me a copy of “Comfort” years ago, and I passed it on to our two youngest grand girls. Keep doing what you’re doing, Carolee!
Thanks Mary Ann. I hope the grand kids enjoyed it.