Here’s where I ended my last post: So yes, I write edgy YA. Because I think teens want to look over the edge but they don’t necessarily want to jump.
Here is where I am beginning this post: I write edgy YA because I think teens live on the edge all the time.
I went to see the film BOYHOOD (trailer below) last night. It is a masterwork by Rick Linklater. Filmed over a twelve-year period, it follows a boy Mason and his sister as they grow up in a family, which is not a very unusual family by today’s standards. The kids are the product of young love, two people who fit well together in bed but had a harder time growing up and being parents together. So they split up and the kids watch as their loving mother careens from school to jobs to bad marriages trying to make a life for them. Their father tries to be meaningful in their lives but it’s hard to get meaning out of two overnights a month. Nothing horrible happens. No one gets murdered, raped or beaten but here’s the deal, Linklater takes us so close to what it’s like to be a kid witnessing the vagaries of the adults in his life that every scene has a sense of danger. The little betrayals, vicissitudes, and inattention of adults jerk kids around. Adults don’t mean to do it. They just do. They are human.
In a bit of a cultural zeitgeist, I saw a very similar film a few weeks earlier: HELLION by Kat Candler (trailer below). Again, two siblings are left to fend for themselves as their father goes off on a three-week bender following the tragic and unexpected death of his wife/their mom. Nothing horrific happens but the audience has the sense that life could go terribly off the rails at any moment. As the father careens, so do the boys. As others adults try to help, they inadvertently pull the rug out from under the boys. It is all well meaning and full of love but oh so painful to watch.
Edgy books give teens a glimpse of protagonists figuring the uncertainty of life. Because that’s what the edge is: uncertainty. As far as I know, no one has been able to predict the future so we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Not knowing is exciting and scary. For a teen, that uncertainty is even more extreme because they’ve already fallen off the cliff of childhood. Now they are climbing up some weird precipice called adulthood. In a way, teens live on the razor’s edge between childhood and adulthood.
So yes, I write edgy YA because it tells a truth about what life is like for a teen.
Yes– adolescence is a time of transition and uncertainty in the best of families, with no clear expectations for either the kid or the adults around them on how the teens are supposed to behave. In some ways I think the ancient traditions of the teen going off on the vision quest or other ritual made for a clearer and smoother transition to adulthood than the long, drawn-out, vague period we have for adolescence. Bless you for continuing to write authentic stories for teens!