Lately, there's been a lot of talk about who "should" read YA. There was the Salon article, saying adults should be "embarrassed" to read YA (eye roll) and the myriad (wonderfully articulate) responses from YA writers and readers alike. There's always stuff like this around, and I find the articles and their responses really interesting.
On a more personal level, it seems like every time I tell someone in publishing that I'd like teenagers to read my book...I get cynical laughter in response. And I get told "over 50% of YA readers are adults"...like teenaged readers are mythical, unicorn-rare creatures that only exist in my mind.
I'm aware of the "most YA readers are adult" statistic...I've used it plenty of times myself to defend the fact that I write for young adults when family or well-meaning friends ask when I'm going to write a "real" book (ie for adults).
And so, okay, teenaged book readers are hard to reach, in terms of marketing strategy or social media. Got it. But here's the thing. That doesn't change the fact that I write my young adult books FOR teenagers. Even if they'll never find or read them. I don't care how many times someone tells me only adults read YA and teenagers will never read my books...I am not going to start writing FOR adults reading YA.
The truth is, I write YA books for a very specific teenager. She's fourteen or fifteen years old. Scrawny but she thinks she's fat. Smart but thinks she might be dumb because her parents and teachers lose patience with her a lot. She feels awkward and hyper and silly, and spends her time bouncing between the occasional, thrilling realization that she's actually pretty awesome... and the rest of the time, when she sternly reminds herself she's not...because she's not supposed to think she's cool. She's supposed to be humble and quiet and put together. She'd only be "cool" if she was like that girl her mom keeps telling her she should be more like: pretty, polite, accomplished, athletic, altruistic, etc.
This teenaged girl is goofy and weird and loves things, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Robin McKinley books, that her parents just don't understand. She giggles hysterically with her friends, cries when she reads good books, and fantasticizes about what it actually would feel like to have someone be in love with her.
I write for that girl, who feels powerless and out of control...who's treated like she's weak and helpless but who inside just wants to be STRONG. POWERFUL. Her own person. The girl who has dreams and ambitions that people tell her are nice hobbies, so she starts to believe that maybe they're NOT attainable. Maybe she should settle for something easier. "Real."
The girl who fears everything but so desperately, desperately wants to be brave.
I write for the girl who grows up wanting a boyfriend SO BADLY but doesn't have a clue how to talk to guys or be self-confident or know when that boy who acts like a tool isn't WORTH it. She deserves so much more.
I write for the girl who doesn't believe she deserves all the things...but absolutely 100% DOES deserve all the things. She deserves to feel safe to embrace her sillies, her creativity, her strength, her dreams.
This girl - this sweet, lost, insecure, wishful girl - she looks a little bit like this:
And she has big, big dreams that she wants DESPERATELY to achieve, but believes, even as a teenager, they are out of her grasp because she's a girl. Because she's not smart enough. Or because she's not one of those "pretty, put together, accomplished" girls. But she doesn't stop trying, anyway. Just in case.
When I write about strong girls who defy expectations, girls who prove to THEMSELVES how strong and capable they are...when I write about close, supportive female friendships, and girls who find love for being themselves...I think about this teenager in my head. How she needs those kinds of role models in her life. She needs stories about girls who prove everyone wrong.
So, yeah. Maybe those mythical teenage unicorns out there in the wild don't read my books. But there's this one special teenager, still with me after all these years, who reads every single word.
Fellow writer friends, do you have someone in particular you write for? A "perfect reader" in your head, who you hope will find and love your stories?