Writer in Residence

The Importance of YA

By Brian Wilkinson

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Now that I’ve talked a lot about how I got to this point in my writing career, it seems important that I focus on why I choose to write young adult fiction. It seems, to me anyway, that despite the incredible rise in popularity of the genre there is still a slight stigma against it. At signings, I’d tell people that the books were both YA and they’d nod at me, almost in pity, before moving on.

So why do I do it?

Well, I happen to think that the most creative, interesting, and exciting books come from YA. This isn’t meant to insult people who like ‘grown up’ books at all, but an attempt to highlight to those of you who may be overlooking this genre that you’re really missing out on something special.

Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I can say this with some authority as I am the head librarian for a high school and have been an English teacher for more than a decade. I have bought and read hundreds of YA books for my school before putting them in the hands of my students. YA books aren’t just fluff about high school romances (though they can still cover the topic and do it exceptionally well), but they include all of the major elements that you might already like including action, sci-fi, horror, the supernatural, historical fiction, true crime, and more. These books can be silly and fun, but many are deadly serious. It’s all there if you’re willing to look.

Also, in case it isn’t obvious as to why I wanted to write YA, these are great books. I really wanted to be a part of that tradition. Luckily for myself and many other writers, the floodgates of opportunity opened thanks to Harry Potter. That was a series that feels as though it was initially aimed at kids, but as those kids grew up I’d say those stories firmly became YA. Once the films came out and started making money and more kids started reading we saw books like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Twilight by Stephanie Meyer join the fray. And lots more… Fault in Our Stars. Perks of Being a Wallflower. Divergent. Percy Jackson, Mortal Instruments. Heck, I’d even argue to allow books like Ready Player One into the YA arena considering its teenage protagonist.

A common thread above is that YA also attracted movie money and all of this Hollywood attention created a lot of positive buzz. From a publisher standpoint, there was now a desire to bring in more YA than ever. From a writer standpoint, there’s more opportunity to get published. From a reader standpoint, the quantity and quality of offerings has expanded and improved to the point where every reader should be excited.

Interested yet? To help you get started, I suggest you visit the Ontario Library Association’s page and take a look at their White Pine Award nominee lists. Each year, they take around eight books that have been released and showcase them as some of the best YA reading around. I order five copies of each title every year for my students and they get devoured. Here is a link to this year’s nominees.

A sampling, if you will, of some of my favourite White Pine titles from past years:

Monkeyface

 

The Monkeyface Chronicles by Richard Scarsbrook
By far one of my favourites, this book follows Philip who has an extreme facial deformity and faces a lot of judgment in his small town. He’s placed in rougher classes despite having an IQ that far surpasses his good looking twin brother who seems to get every advantage. There is a major twist in the story that also deals with a mystery within the family, but the book is also about love and the difficulty in accepting what life throws at you. This is a book that crosses the boundaries back and forth between adult and YA fiction thanks to the quality of the writing. Scarsbrook is a major talent who has written a ton of other engaging books as well.

 

Dan VS Nature

 

Dan VS. Nature by Don Calame
There are many who attempt comedy in books, but somehow only Don Calame has really made me laugh out loud. This book deals with a teen named Dan who is suddenly forced to confront the reality that his mom is marrying a guy named Hank, whom he barely knows. He has to go on a wilderness retreat to get to know Hank better. Dan wants nothing to do with it and is determined to get Hank to run. To do this, Dan and his best friend come up with a series of plans that are awkward and funny. Things go horribly wrong. Only read if you aren’t allergic to laughter.

 

Dark Inside

 

Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts
There’s a shift in the world… earthquakes and destruction, and then people start behaving strangely. An inner rage is released. The story is told from four perspectives until the characters meet up and face the new world together. It’s a great post-apocalyptic story with high stakes and adventure. People who enjoy dark stories with compelling characters who struggle to survive against the odds will be pleased with this title. I know I was! In fact, I was hooked more than enough to pick up the two sequels as soon as they came out.

 

 

Unlikely Hero

 

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B By Teresa Toten
This story was amazing. It’s about a kid named Adam dealing with an obsessive compulsive disorder who one day meets a girl named Robyn in a support group. Adam instantly falls for her, but she, like him, is trying to cope with her own life. Together and with the rest of the group, the book follows them as they navigate the world and find their place in it. It’s a wonderful book about acceptance, trust, and love. I was really impressed with how deftly Toten handles characters who are going through an extra layer of struggle in their lives. This is something that gets left out of a lot of books and I appreciated the care and time put in to making something like OCD understandable, especially for a younger audience who might otherwise be unfamiliar. An incredible read.

 

Look, those are great books and there are dozens more just like them waiting to be discovered. Book stores all have teen reading selections and knowledgeable people to give recommendations. Online sites like Indigo and Amazon have teen sections and recommended reading lists. I strongly encourage you to take a look. Just because we grow older doesn’t mean we don’t still love a good story and I’ve found that YA has some of the best there are.

So, next time you’re out and about and see a YA author like myself, just know that they’re smiling because they love the work they’re doing and the books they’re reading are fun. Give it a shot. You might just be a convert if you aren’t already.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.


Brian Wilkinson attempts to juggle multiple careers as an author, high school teacher, and librarian. He currently lives in East York, Ontario, with his wife and two children, who served as the inspiration for the main characters in his first novels, Battledoors and Paramnesia. Brian was born and raised in Guelph, Ontario, where he attended the University of Guelph and received a BA in English Literature. He continued his writing career by earning a diploma in Journalism from Humber College, and applied those skills by working as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, the Toronto Star, and EYE Weekly, as well as serving as a co-publisher for the comic news site ComiXfan, and an editor for Humber Etcetera, where he won a Columbia Scholastic writing award for first-person column-writing. He was even lucky enough to realize a lifelong dream by writing for Marvel Comics when he co-wrote X-Men: The 198 Files. Brian feels like he is the luckiest person on Earth. He gets to be a dad, a husband, a teacher, and a writer. Not too bad, huh?

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