Over a year ago I attended a panel on YA fiction, and something I heard has picked at my mind ever since. This particular panel consisted of librarians, both school and public, talking about what young people read. They had discussed the usual suspects and the panel was open to questions. I asked about a recent award-winning YA book, science fiction, that had garnered amazing reviews. The librarian smiled sadly. "We recommend it, but most kids start and then abandon it. They say it's too slow and not exciting enough."
I have heard this before about other award-winners, including recipients of the prestigious Newberry Medal. I have just finished reading THE MIDWIFE'S APPRENTICE, a book by Karen Cushman, who previously had won a Newberry for CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY.
Both books are set in the Middle Ages, and although the world they depict has its share of brutality, the books' two heroines, one a young lady and one a homeless village girl, don't engage in much derring-do. There is no magic. No sword fights, no quests, no battles, no deaths except from natural causes. "We recommend Karen Cushman," the librarians said, "but mostly those books are read aloud to classes by teachers."
All this has raised a question in my mind: Do kids consistently choose different books for themselves than adults would choose for them? Is that why Harry Potter and Katniss Everdene, but not Catherine called Birdy, became best-selling icons? And if what constitutes a really, really good book is not the same as judged by adults and by kids, then which should a writer be considering in shaping his or her story?
I have a YA novel coming out in November: FLASH POINT, from Viking. I wasn't much aware of this question while I was writing it. And now I don't know the answer--or how much appeal the novel might have to either audience--although it seems to me that I was trying for both. Now I'm wondering if that may have been a mistake, in that it may not be possible. The things they want in fiction seem very different.