Saturday, January 29, 2011

Why I passed on the YA genre

A teen walks into the guidance counselor's office at school.  The kid is having a hard time finding his own way: his relationship with his parents has deteriorated and his grades have declined during the last couple years; he continues struggling to find acceptance at both home and school.  The counselor gives him that "I've got just what you need" look.  Ritalin?  Nope.  Prozac?  Nope.  She slides open her desk drawer and lifts out a paperback book.

"Read this," the counselor says.

The teen looks at the book.  "The Somebody Obsession?  You think I should become a professional wrestler?"

"Absolutely not," the counselor says, chuckling.  "But the book is about so much more than wrestling.  The guy who wrote it became a wrestler, but he has quite a journey along the way.  You should read it--I think you'll find that you have a lot in common with the author.  Just make sure I get it back when you're finished."

This was my vision.  My book, I daydreamed, would be the modern, nonfiction version of The Catcher in the Rye.  I'd be the real-life Holden Caulfield; teens would read  my story and think destiny brought them and my book together.  It would be quoted in locker-room speeches and commencement addresses, love letters and manifestos.

Alas, it was not meant to be.  My vision and reality, as is often the case, were not one in the same.

I wanted nothing more than to write my story for the Young Adult genre.  Well, almost nothing.  The only thing I coveted more than the opportunity to connect teens with my story was honesty.  I tried for weeks to come up with a way to write my story in a teen-friendly way so it could be borrowed from the school library.  I wasn't afraid to bring a little sex and alcohol into the YA market--those are real issues in a teenager's life--and I wasn't afraid to be controversial.  If I could have found a way to write the book in a YA-friendly manner without softening or dancing around the truth, I would have done it.  But I wasn't willing to do it at the expense of honesty or jeopardize the thing that makes my book so unique: its voice.

My book connects with a good percentage of readers, but it's not for everyone.  There's a lot of R-rated content that will turn some people off.  Others will simply find it uninteresting.  But it's my story and I told it the way I thought it should be told.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

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