Yesterday I participated in a panel discussion on "What next for YA literature" with fabulous authors David Hill, Diana Menefy, Rachael King and Tessa Duder at the Storylines Family Day in Auckland (gotta love the Topp Twins). At the moment a wide range of genre are popular in YA including dystopian, fantasy and steampunk, romance, contemporary realism and historical fiction. I liked Rachael's suggestion that the future of YA might be a mash-up of genres. I think what we want to see as the future of YA as writers is at variance with what is actually likely to happen. I think commercial drivers are eyeing up the success of books like 50 Shades of Grey (currently being read by a lot of older teens) and age appropriate watered down versions of this will be encouraged. A number of Romance Publishers have already created YA lines following on from the success of the Twilight books. Movies based on popular books also influence the success of various genres and extend the life of these. David Hill pointed out that the lag time with publishing made trying to follow or anticipate trends difficult if not impossible. Tessa pointed out that despite the popularity of series such as Twilight, Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, some of the best YA are the smartly written stand alones like Kate de Goldi's The 10pm Question and Jenny Downham's Before I Die. Good writing is not disappearing under the weight of commercial imperatives.
There was some debate about what constituted a YA. Content reflecting teenage concerns, the age, voice and language of the main protagonists helped define YA. The lines are blurred however with YA being read by a much wider audience (from a large adult audience to much younger children such as 8 and 9 year olds). This is exacerbated by the fact that children develop and mature at different rates. Concern was raised about the fact that some YA literature is being read by much younger readers and content may not be suitable, although it was also noted that children often don't 'get' some of the more mature concepts and are therefore not necessarily affected by them. TV and movies were often felt to contain an equal if not greater amount of contentious material yet parents and other groups commented more on what their children read rather than what they watched. Those working in libraries tried to guide both young readers and their parents towards age appropriate books. Where YA is shelved in both libraries and shops should reflect the content and audience with some books needing to be shelved in both Adult and YA and others needing to be removed from children's shelves. An advanced or mature reading age did not necessarily mean a child was ready for YA content. It was felt to be important for YA books to reflect teenage issues and many acknowledged it was better to read about these issues and their impact in the safe environment of the pages of a book (I'm a firm believer that books covering more contentious issues show readers they are not alone if they are experiencing these things for themselves and help teens empathise with others going through such problems). Concern was expressed about teen books with difficult issues that ended on a hopeless note. Offering hope or a positive outcome in a YA novel seemed a responsible approach. Tessa reminded everyone what a brilliant YA writer Margaret Mahy was with books such as Memory, The Tricksters, The Catalogue of the Universe and The Changeover (some of my personal favourites).
I am bound to have left some bits out. I hadn't thought about summarising the discussion and was busy thinking of my opinions on the matters raised during the talk so didn't take any notes at the time. If any audience members want to add or amend anything just let me know in the comments section and I will update the post.
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- Book List - Complete List of my Publications