You’d think as a teacher of high school English in a school that requires students to read a young adult (YA) novel and in which I have to listen to presentations and read analysis of said novels, that I’d know quite a bit about YA novels. In reality, I know very little.
Is it folly, then, to take on a YA novel as my Nanowrimo challenge this month? Perhaps. But I’m going full speed ahead with it anyway.
I don’t remember reading many YA novels growing up, besides Judy Blume novels and Nancy Drew mysteries. I remember reading Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea in grade six (no teen issues to be found in that one). In junior high I read the then scandalous Forever and Wifey before a friend’s mother turned me on to Stephen King in high school. I also remember reading quite a few soap-opera-type novels, cast-offs of my mother’s reading, mostly about Jewish immigrants finding their place in the New World, but not many teen novels.
In university I read Bette Greene’s The Summer of My German Soldier, and a number of classics (Winnie The Pooh, Peter Pan, Anne of Green Gables, The Sword in the Stone, Wind in the Willows) in university. I’ve taught Crabbe (William Bell), A Night To Remember (Walter Lord), Dreamspeaker (Cam Hubert), and Monster (Walter Dean Myers). On my own I’ve read Shelley Hrdlitschka’s Sister Wife, Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine, Virals by Kathy Reichs, and Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Prachett. My intention here is to neither brag nor complain about the YA novels I’ve read. It is to establish that I am, by no means, an expert in the field.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that YA novels are those which are published for and market to young adults (i.e., teenagers). The main characters in the novels are young adults. Issues explored are of interest to young adults. Forever is about a young woman losing her virginity. Pooh, Peter and Anne are all coming of age novels. Crabbe is about a runaway. Ditto Dreamspeaker. The perennial Go Ask Alice (of which I have a still unread copy procured in my own teenage years) is about drug abuse, Monster: crime and punishment—all things you’d expect a YA novel to be about. But wait. Based on what my students report, it is much more than that. The novels my students read are tales of suicide, rape, cancer stricken youth and parents, sexual disorientation and/or ambiguity, terrorism, sexual abuse, self-abuse as in cutting, and murder, quite weighty topics for someone that can’t comprehend the difference between karma and divine retribution, I think.
Which brings me to The Revenant, the YA novel I’m chipping away at this month. Repeating the mantra “hurt your characters” (1), I am doing my best to put my characters through the ropes. Every night I sit down and type away, watching the word count mount to my goal of 1,600 plus words as I watch the story take shape. My characters have to battle with the fact that they’re empaths, seers and the undead. The main character, Zulu the Revenant, fanaticizes about superheroes as he goes about righting wrongs dreamt of by The Seer, his father figure (whom I must eventually kill). He gets stabbed, shot, and has to deal with the fact that the love of his life died a century ago and isn’t ever coming back—or is she? I haven’t yet decided. The empathy feels people’s emotions and sees auras so she is able to pick bad guys out in a crowd. So far the only hurt she experiences is that she may be falling in love with Zulu who she’s pretty sure is a vampire. She also has to deal with a meddling mother. It’s possible she may lose her mother and Malchus, the necromancer, may have to bring her back, though the way things are shaping up, it would only be temporary. Malchus is the long dead brother of The Seer (an old man cursed with longevity) in possession of a teenager’s body. He has raised two from the dead so far (one of which he killed himself), but they keep decomposing. I think the coroner may have to call his childhood friend, now the priest in the girl’s parish for religious advice as to how people who have been dead for some time are able to walk into city centres before they die one last time. Malchus struggles to get his powers back and under control and then he will have to find his brother because he must exact revenge on him for killing him.
At any rate, I have about 24 hours to percolate the next idea before I must force it to gel.
16,095 words and counting.
(1) Chartand, James. Fiction Writing: Hurt Your Characters. Men With Pens. 2006-2012. < http://menwithpens.ca/fiction-writing-hurt-your-characters/>. 10 Nov 2012.