When I decided to write a novel, it was no question that it was going to be a book about teens. What can be more angsty than being at an age where you're old enough to make some adult decisions, but are still so young that you haven't experienced much of the world?
I actually began reading YA books before I was a teen. As I've said before, I'm a huge fan of Judy Blume. While I loved her books aimed toward younger kids, like the Fudge series, I really enjoyed reading her books for older girls like, "Are You There God? It's Me Margaret." I read that when I was 9 and LEARNED things from that story. I wanted to hang out with Margaret and her friends.
A few years later, I got into the Sweet Valley High series. My grandmother had a friend whose son worked for a big publishing house -- Random House, I think -- and he'd send me stacks of free books. So for the next few years, I'd receive stacks and stacks of free Sweet Valley Highs and various other teen romances. My parents had always encouraged me to read classic authors like Mark Twain and Dickens, but I worked really hard in school and they understood that these books were my not-so-guilty pleasure. I devoured these YA novels, wishing that I could be as cool as Liz and Jessica, and wishing that I could be as pretty as the girls who were hired to model for the books' covers.
Whenever I read these books, I'd make up stories to go along with them. Much as I loved SVH, some of the books seemed to be a little thin for me so I'd think, "Hmmm... I would've had Jessica do this or Liz say that..." In the back of my mind, I always had a plan for writing a teen book of my own.
What's great is that YA books have really evolved. When I was a teen, most of the books that were considered to be strictly for teens were romances or series like SVH or All That Glitters. These days, you have many YA books that cover heavy topics like rape, abuse, etc. In my opinion, they're more sophisticated. Even the series like Gossip Girl are edgier. Let's face it -- Blair Waldorf would eat Jessica Wakefield for lunch!
Recently, I went back and read some of the books I had from my teen days. SVH still held up; it was fluffy and fun, and that's what it was meant to be. As one of my Soap Opera Digest colleagues once stated, SVH was basically a teen soap in book form. But some of the other YA books I had were AWFUL! And yet, I loved every one.
We really have come a long way in the YA industry. I hope that my novel entertains readers the way YA books entertained me in my youth.
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