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Author Johnny Worthen talks about Young Adult Literature

 JOHNNY WORTHEN is an award-winning, best-selling author, voyager and damn fine human being. He is the tie-dye wearing writer of the nationally acclaimed, #1 Kindle best-selling ELEANOR, THE UNSEEN. Among his other excellent titles are the adult occult thriller BEATRYSEL, the adult political mystery THE BRAND DEMAND, the continuation of THE UNSEEN Trilogy, with CELESTE and DAVID. His genre bending comedy-noire THE FINGER TRAP won Diamond Quill award-for best published book of the year from the League of Utah Writers.

Trained in stand-up comedy, modern literary criticism and cultural studies, Johnny is a frequent public speaker, blogger and teacher at the University of Utah.  “I write what I like to read,” he says. “That guarantees me at least one fan.”

The Scoop on YA

I was asked to give a few thoughts about Young Adult Literature a few weeks ago by a Master’s student. it got me thinking and I blogged about it here. Now, I’m putting together a class for the University of Utah about Young Adult literature and writing it.

So even more, I’m having to organize my experiences, opinions and thoughts into a cohesive outline. This is always a tricky prospect. I’m qualified since about half of what I write can be classified as Young Adult. It’s a tricky definition, but here’s what I got:

Young adult literature is literature geared for a young adult audience. Like all genre labels it’s a marketing label, nothing more.

 

Isn’t that useful?

Okay, more to the point. The primary characteristic of the genre is that the protagonist is a young adult; i.e. someone between the ages of 13 and 17. That’s it. The age of the protagonist, more than theme, content, language is the defining thing. There’s blurred room, here, but that reality is the defining characteristic.

Adult books with YA protagonists are taught as YA.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird being excellent and classic examples of these. These books are full of serious themes and events and yet, because the protagonist is a teenager, they’re taught in high schools. And the high school reader identifies with it.

It’s an effective trick really, one that I use in all my young adult. I put kids in adult situation and take advantage of their resilience to work it all out. My young adult trilogy, The Unseen Trilogy (Eleanor, Celeste and David) deal with serious issue of change and trust, abandonment, love and survival. Thematically I couldn’t have written these books about change with any other group in mind.

 

It was a gamble for Eleanor to rejoin humanity, but she to. She’d been too successful forgetting. The last vestiges of her family hung by a thread in her transformed brain and drove her to be reckless. Ten years later, Eleanor hides in plain sight. She is an average girl getting average grades in a small Wyoming town: poor but happy, lonely but loved. Her mother is there for her and that’s all she’s ever needed. But now her mother is sick and David has returned. The only friend she’d ever had, the only other person who knows her secret, is back. And Eleanor again becomes reckless. Eleanor is a modest girl, unremarkable but extraordinary, young but old, malleable but fixed. She is scared and confused. She is a liar and a thief. Eleanor is not what she appears to be.

 

Young adult is the perfect dramatic canvas to write on because drama is about conflict and change and these awkward ages are the ultimate time of change. I often say that what an adult would call a mid-life crisis, a young adult would call a Tuesday. Young adults are formative years, time to find limits and lifelong definitions. These are times of courage and experimentation, but always involve rapid change. It’s the crossing over from child to adult and the time of discovering and defining personal identity.

What I really love about the genre is its popularity. The genre exists because young adults are reading and that’s a marvelous thing. Young adults, in this time of change, are turning to books as guides and that’s tremendous. Though there’s a lot of dreck –lots of “fast food” stories meant for quick consumption and equally quick disregard – there are others that will steer, challenge and nourish the readers, classics in the making, stories that present adult situations, choices and challenges before a young mind. Young adult readers can handle it. They’re readers by definition and so have lived lives beyond their own.

 

You can find out more about Johnny at: www.johnnyworthen.com

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