I have a lot of hours at the bookstore this weekend, so I crashed last night shortly after this Wall Street Journal article came up in conversation on Twitter and Maureen Johnson started the #YAsaves hashtag. My only regret is that when I woke up this morning I missed all those inspirational tweets…but I’m starting to see that they’re being archived online. Good.

Obviously, this issue of the quality of fiction being read by teenagers is a pretty big deal to me. My goal in life is to write books that will mean as much to some young person as Tamora Pierce and Lloyd Alexander and Roald Dahl and Diana Wynne Jones and all the others meant to me when I was twelve. Two summers ago, I wrote down a list of my 21 most influential books. Looking back on them now, I realize that only *one* (Me Talk Pretty One Day) was read when I was older than nineteen.

I asked my mother once why she never did anything when I came home crying almost every day in the sixth grade. Her answer was straightforward and honest: “I had no idea any of that was happening. You’d come home and go straight to your room and never come out.” To be fair, it’s true. And what did I do up there? I read books and I wrote stories.

What the #YAsaves hashtag wants to know is *why* I did that. Why did a genius ten-going-on-eleven year-old girl who was hitting puberty so hard it literally made her bones ache, who found solace in food and Star Trek when her best friend in the whole world broke up with her for absolutely no good reason, hide away from people who might have helped her? Why did she close off the outside world and go live somewhere else?

The answer is as obvious as it is silly: I didn’t think anyone in *this* world would understand me. My little sister wasn’t as old as me yet, my big sister was too much older and lived too far away, and my mother had her own childhood stripped away and couldn’t relate to me. They didn’t know what it was like to be me, in my situation, with my feelings. I might have looked just like all of them–I am the spitting image of my mother–but inside, my heart and nerve and sinew were vastly different.

Skimming the surface of the #YAsaves tweets, so much is similar. There are fish-out-of-water stories. There are boys and girls who were so full of loneliness and depression that they contemplated or attempted suicide. YA fiction provided an escape from everything, up to and including alcoholic parents, rape, and abuse. Reading was where we all went to understand, to be understood, and to not be alone. YA literature reminded us all that we had the power to control our destinies and change the world.

In one hundred forty characters or less, I might say: “YA fiction helped me raise myself.” Of course it did. Not only did I become a worldly child, I became an other-worldly one as well. My tolerances went beyond race and creed and sexual orientation to species of aliens and shimmering gods and whether or not you could use magic, and if you could, whether or not you used that power for good or evil. If you put good things into the world they came back to you, and bad people got punished. I was challenged to be the best person I could be, to push my limits far beyond my reach, to think so far outside the box that it didn’t look like a box anymore.

These people–these fabulous authors, and a good chunk of them British–were my friends. They knew my pain and suffering and could translate it into something beautiful. Even better, THEY WERE ADULTS. Which renewed my faith in the belief that it actually was possible to mature and yet still not forget what it was like to be a kid. We must grow older, but we never have to grow up. And I didn’t mean to.

There is hope in this world. Our children are our future. What they take from a book won’t be the same thing you take from a book, because they don’t need what you need. They don’t know what you know. They are blank slates, and you must trust that you have raised them well enough to be able to make their own decisions to be good, caring, unselfish people who will seize their destinies with both hands and chase after that dragon with no fear.

In fact, I dare you to try and stop them. Have you ever known anything to stop a teenager? Ever? My parents told me I couldn’t major in English when I was a teenager. And we see how well that worked out.

If you are on Twitter, tell us what YA literature meant/means to you and use the #YAsaves hashtag. If you are not on Twitter, I encourage you, as always, to share your stories here.

Now I’ve got to go get ready for my shift at the bookstore. Yes, I am a bookseller AND a YA author. Today I have the most rewarding jobs of all time.

16 Responses to “#YAsaves”

  1. paula Says:

    Good Morning Princess,
    Well said !! I was the same way and I loved to read when I was at age. I still read them and when I finish they go Erin’s shelf so one day she can read them. esterday we bought 3 Junie B Jones , First grader because Erin starts first grade in the fall.
    You know how much we love books in our house and how much we appreciate the people who write them. 🙂

  2. Princess Alethea Says:

    Hooray for Erin! (Hooray for you guys ALL the time!!)

    You know, Books-a-Million has a summer reading program of sorts, and a pamphlet on which your child can list all the books they read that summer. If they read four Junie B. Jones books, they can get a little JBJ backpack! You should check that out. xox

  3. paula Says:

    Really, I will check that out. Thanks so much!

  4. Diane Gaston Says:

    Alethea, what a great blog. You made a wonderful point that a young person does not look for the same thing in a book that an adult does. Great insight into how books can heal, as well.

  5. PJ Sharon Says:

    In regards to the Wall Street Journal Article–As much as I hate the idea of censorship, I have to agree that the pickings are slim for light YA reads. I went into B&N last week just to see if there were books with a similar tone to my book HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES, coming out September 24th. It’s about a 17 year old girl who loses her brother in the war in Iraq and then falls for his best friend while she’s helping him recover and they’re trying to find out the truth about what happened to her brother. It deals with some serious issues but the overall tone of the book is fairly light considering the competition. I was sad to see a VERY small shelf relegated to contemporary YA novels, and they were inundated with only a few big names such as Sarah Dessen. The clean teen shelves are tiny compared to the HUGE selection of dark paranormal stuff available to teens. Interesting is that the covers are so compelling you can’t help but be drawn to them. Is it perhaps just another trick of marketing that has us all sucked into the dark and twisty stuff?

  6. Joelene Says:

    Good blog, Alethea, and thanks for the link to the article. Conflicting feelings after reading it though because I could see it from a parent’s POV, but my dander was up in defense as a YA author. I don’t like censorship, but it raises a question always forefront in YA authors minds: how much is too much? Tough. Mind if I steal your idea to blog on this? I’ll credit your blog with the original thought tag.

  7. Princess Alethea Says:

    Steal away, please!
    Knowledge is best when shared. xox

  8. Elise Says:


  9. Erica O'Rourke Says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Alethea — you’re absolutely right. YA has the power to help kids when they feel most alone. It gives them connections and reassurance. That article pretty much made my head explode into tiny incoherent bits, and your response, intelligent and powerful and honest, is exactly what the author of that “article” needs to hear — and proof she is WRONG.

  10. Mandi M. Lynch Says:

    PJ – I always thought that was the point. Children’s literature takes us off to a world that’s not our own, and even when it goes into dark places (Puppet Master, Harry Potter, etc) it’s the same things that went bump in the night when we were five. YA is supposed to take us further. Its our way to come of age and understand those parts of life that are so confusing. I read YA to feel the pain of somebody else – and I’m 28. If I wanted fluff, I have plenty of other places to find it.

    ~A, I’m off to do something I *never* do, Tweet.

  11. Alysia Says:

    Well said, Alethea. A felt the same way as a teen, but the books available 25 years ago when I was a YA reader were very different. In fact, I was reading mostly adult books by the time I was 13. As a writer and former librarian, I do not believe in censorship, but as a parent, there are YA books out there I’d rather not have my kids read. I think the burden falls on parents to be aware of what their kids are reading (and doing!) and take advantage of any opportunity to discuss it with them.

  12. Princess Alethea Says:

    Absolutely, Alysia. Parents should be aware of what their children are reading. It’s why I podcast all the Grimm Fairy Tales on my blog–so few people know what the original tales say, and what their message was. My mother, for instance, had no clue that “Cinderella” was so bloody.

    And those YA tales were published a loooooong time ago. 🙂

  13. Jaemi Says:

    Books have always been my best friends. When we moved from Germany there were no girls my age in the neighborhood and hanging with the guys didn’t always appeal to me. My mom introduced me to Nancy Drew and a love affair was born! it was great to see a redhead be brainy and respected by people. I found it so heard to be dumped in to the South with a bi-racial heritage topped off with red hair and freckles. Books were my escape from loneliness, fear, racism, and a host of other things. I’m pretty sure that if I hadn’t had the escape route I did things would have ended up much worse for me. My son is 11 and he has mandatory reading time throughout the summer. The school year finds him bringing books home from the library so I have no worries about him keeping up with reading. I love the fact that I have been able to introduce him to so many different book series and we get to have conversations about them. What he hasn’t realized is that his comments about things that have happened in certain book give me a look into what’s going on with him and help open a dialog about things he might be dealing with.

  14. Amy Durham Says:

    Beautifully said. I am still in awe of all the tweets and blog posts that have come out of #YASaves. What started out as a hateful, ridiculous attack on the genre has in turn caused a groundswell of support for YA literature and YA authors. I could say so much… agree with so much… but for the sake of brevity I’ll just say that you captured it perfectly… for me and for so many others.

    Amy Durham

  15. Laura Says:

    Thank you for this! If I hadn’t had fantasy worlds to escape to as a teen I wouldn’t be alive today, and that’s just a fact.

  16. Laura Says:

    And yes, some of the books I read contained “dark” themes and graphic violence. But nothing compared to the rage I felt in my own heart at the time. (sorry for the second comment)

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