The letter below was crafted by an amazing student. Her name is Henri Lowe, and I suspect you will hear big things from her in the future. And by future, I mean the immediate future because this letter is about to blow your mind.
To the Authors of Teen Fiction,
I am sixteen years old: a teenager by all accounts. Yet I cannot walk into the Young Adult aisle in a bookstore, full of your latest books, without sighing and walking out again in favor of the middle school fiction section. I am not opposed to all teen fiction, not in the slightest. I have been exposed to much of it. I have read the most popular books of your genre: Divergent, The Hunger Games, and The Fault in Our Stars are all on my bookshelf.
Yet I still have issues with the genre of teenage fiction. Why must you assume that my tastes change so dramatically upon becoming a “young adult”? I have matured quite a bit since my elementary and middle school years, but I still appreciate a well-written book. The books that you put on the shelves vary, but many of them are not worth any reader’s time. The change in my age means that I have entered a section of the bookstore where unoriginality reigns: all of the latest books are modeled after the last teen bestsellers. There are worlds upon worlds of vampires and werewolves, thanks to Twilight; dystopian futures after The Hunger Games, and, later, Divergent; teenage lovers battling disease and heartbreak, in the style of John Green. I don’t argue that these are all pointless and poorly written, but how I wish there was more creativity. The typical models are growing bland. Young adult books belong to a rotating wheel of ideas, which spawn hundreds of imitations, often worse than the first.
Perhaps you do write a decent book, or at least an original, thoughtful one. Chances are, the main elements will include those which you think are the prominent issues in my life: romance, death, uncertainty, betrayal, passion. The elements of the book will almost certainly include sex, likely include cursing, potentially include drugs, and possibly include current issues such as homosexuality. Do I exaggerate when I say “almost certainly”? No, I do not, because that is the current model. You assume that because I am a teenager living in a world of tumultuous emotions, I feel acutely these things of which you write, and act in the way that you assume teenagers act.
But I do not. You see, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that you write about these issues. I am aware that some teenagers do face these circumstances--but perhaps not as many as you think. You write of things that are culturally accepted, and socially accepted, or things that you assume to be so, but are actually not necessarily accepted among teenagers. The angst that you suppose among teenagers, with our cursing and relationships, is not quite as realistic as you assume. I become uncomfortable when every highschool relationship becomes overly graphic or physical, and saddened because that is not always true--but you make it seem as if it is. You often push your own agendas into books, in a way which diminishes or even eliminates your artistic integrity. Even if I find your plotlines monotonous, even if I don’t fancy your choices regarding characters and their actions, I will accept your decisions if they are necessary to the plot, or if they are true to the character. But too often I find these elements in your books unnecessary, simply thrown in to fit the model of the standard young adult book. You seem to jump on the bandwagon to sell copies—or you truly mistake the world of the teenager.
When I am in the Young Adult books section, I miss the inventive and well-written Harry Potter; the brilliant Artemis Fowl; the action-packed original Percy Jackson series; the witty djinn Bartimaeus; the intelligent young children who composed The Mysterious Benedict Society; the hilarious skeleton detective Skulduggery Pleasant. I find myself pushed more and more into the classics, or back into the middle school section. I find little for teenagers that interests me: the same poorly-written stories, over and over again, with melodramatic one-word titles and covers depicting passionate teenage lovers, or edgy girls thwarting a cruel fate. I want something clever, with good characters and an inventive plotline. Yes, you can add elements of a harder, more confusing teenage world, a transitioning to adulthood. You can even add elements of romance, or death, or sex, or cursing. But please make it relevant to the plotline. Make it relevant to teenagers’ lives as they are, not as you presume them to be—or simply write a book of fantastical fantasy, of magic and ideas and worlds. But whatever you write, please make it creative. Please make it thoughtful.
Please write me a good book.
Your Teenage Reader