Particularly not, but considering the fact that almost every teenage girl can connect with Dessen’s stories, it makes us feel like anyone can write a good young adult novel as long as you can relate.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not discrediting this woman: she’s incredibly smart and I’m impressed that she can crank out so many YA books without making them seem like the most cliché stories you’ve ever heard. She addresses teenage problems, as if she was in the body of a teenager herself, and it makes people want to be her best friend.
I’m putting this under book review, which seems a little odd because it’s not about just one specific book (which she has just come out with one called “Saint Anything”), but about all her books as a collection. You see, they’re all different, but they’ve all got this common theme that is extremely attractive to young women: romance.
But not the weird cheesy kind that Nicholas Sparks has been able to pull off–impressive (by the way, he’s not gay, for those of you who cared).
So no, not everyone can write a book, especially a YA novel. I might have briefly talked to all of you about my attempt at book-writing in I Now Respect Authors. I wouldn’t say my attempt failed¸ but rather it’s just slowly progressing because it’s hard to keep up with college, extracurricular activities, internships, research, etc. AND write a book. So I’m holding off until the summer.
But let me just tell you ahead right now: it’s definitely NOT impossible. My friend, Maxxe, just came out with a book called Touchstones, and she’s still in high school. So part of the problem is that I need to stop slacking and start writing. Editing will come LATER, and it may take me years to crank this novel out. And I want to thank all of you, because if I wasn’t writing about this to the internet, I probably wouldn’t be motivating myself to do anything: hopefully, at least one of you knows I’m trying to get published!
To get back on track, I’ve tried, and the answer is no to the question above. Sarah Dessen has definitely been able to not only pull it off but sell millions of copies to erratic teenage girls with raging hormones.
1. Romance is the most difficult topic to write about. How many good romance novels have you read? Well, specifically good YA novels…maybe one. They’re all pretty cheesy, and that’s how romance is designed; the problem is that critics don’t like bad, cheesy romances like “Endless Summer” or “Alienated” (that was a really weird book). It’s about mixing in realism and the fantasy together that creates a good romance story.
Along for the Ride, one of her more recent novels, describes your typical summer romance where you go to the beach and fall in love and whatever crap (by the way, grandma, I want my book back…), but for some reason I enjoyed it a lot more than they typical romance novel. It wasn’t love at first sight or hook-ups and drugs and smoking, but rather that there was an actual plot.
The usual plot most YA authors default to is the idea that it won’t last forever because it’s a summer fling and it won’t. But there’s so much more to that, such as having an actual impact on the other person’s life. The romance doesn’t have to be life-changing, because what random person is going to change your life, but rather it’s about perspective-changing.
The main character, Auden, begins to look at her life differently, moving away from this stress factor towards more of seeing summer as a time to celebrate, but still study. It’s okay to have fun once in a while.
2. Addressing relatable teenage issues is key. Seclusion. Bullying. Cliques. All of these are well-known issues, but Dessen has found a way to make sure they’re not cliché. Lock and Key does a phenomenal job addressing these specific issues, but hyper-extends it to where the main character seems to have already gone off the deep-end: she’s abandoned, dumped in the midst of drugs, and is consistently struggling through the idea of having hope for her future.
This is a prominent issue, but most of her audience doesn’t realize this because they’re not put into that scenario. It’s interesting to pull a low-income, almost on the fringe of homeless girl into a world of upper middle class where she is forced to go to private school and maybe address the opportunity of having a college education, while she falls for the rich, attractive boy.
However, NONE of this is at first sight and nobody really swoons at the sight of the other person–this goes for all books. Yes, the boys are attractive, but they’re attractive in different ways and she gives them character other than an idealistic boy-toy: Nate has problems with his father in Lock and Key, Wes has no parents and is taking care of his family on his own in The Truth About Forever, Eli is dealing with the fact that he may be responsible for his best friend’s death in Along for the Ride, etc.
The list goes on and on and the teenage issues become ingrained in the relationship where both sides must reciprocate when helping each other deal. You can’t just have a one-way romance.
3. There’s more to life than just a boy-girl romance. This relates back to the teenage issues, where people must deal with others who are not part of the romance. This is my other problem: it is nearly impossible to write 100,000 words about two people because 95% of the book would just be them living in bliss and making out while the other 5% has actual plot and substance (which usually isn’t really that interesting).
In Just Listen, Annabel seems to have a problem more than just getting close with this boy at school. As a matter of fact, starting the relationship happens to be part of her problem as her reputation at school begins to go downhill after being raped by one of the most popular boys around.
Dessen makes the audience sympathize with Annabel as it is commonly misunderstood why girls don’t report rape or abuse, but you are so emotionally tied to this character that it makes sense. It’s not just the fact that she was raped, but it’s also how she thinks her family will view her: they’re supposed to be the most beautiful people around, their children having been actual working models their entire life. How can you tell someone something so destructive when your life is supposedly so perfect?
4. It’s about self-discovery, not couple-discovery. This is the journey that you must embark with the character. The romance is not the plot, but rather the romance just helps the plot move along and becomes a major part of the story; it’s sort of like everyone’s guilty pleasure because we’re all sort of suckers for love (since it is extremely hard to find, no matter how attractive you are).
As you probably already know, I’m a strong individualist and I still don’t understand this concept that relationships mean you can’t be an individual anymore, as stated in …And Happily Ever After. Dessen makes sure that girls understand that they can have the best of both worlds: you can have the lovey-dovey romance and relationship that you’ve been craving as well as having the ability to make your own choices.
By discovering yourself, the characters all find a way to get their s*** together with a little help from others but not entirely dependent on anybody but themselves. Everyone needs to be able to self-reflect and everyone needs to learn how to at least be satisfied with their own lives, because how on earth can you be satisfied with two lives in a relationship when you can’t even be happy in your own?
So, no, it’s not easy to write YA…or any novel, for that matter. The authors that make it look easy may be the best at their work.
Guest post contributed by 100 Ways to Write. The 100 is meant to be a shared place where nobody’s afraid to express his or her own opinions. Check out the blog for more articles.