I write stories with young adults in them. You will notice that I did not say I “write YA.” There is a difference. Publishers select genre designations primarily based on marketing issues. So a book with younger characters usually carries the genre young adult. Unfortunately, Amazon describes their category as “teens.”
I prefer to describe my novels as “coming of age,” or as the Germans say “bildungsroman.” This is a story in which the protagonist is confused about the ways of the world or suffers a loss, and then begins a journey of discovery. At the end, hopefully, some learning or maturity has taken place. It’s described as a novel of education or my favorite, a “novel of formation.”
YA and coming of age are not mutually exclusive. Many novels in the YA genre have elements of the bildungsroman. However, coming of age differs from books written primarily to entertain teens. It is also not restricted to the teenage years. I recently read an article about a high school beauty queen who led a fairy tale life. She married a successful business man and lived in a plush suburb. Suddenly, she found herself at forty, abandoned with four kids, and juggling night school and a job. Her coming of age began all over again.
Young adulthood is such a vivid time to write about. Scientists once believed that our brains were fully developed at twelve or thirteen. Recent imaging techniques reveal that biophysical development of the prefrontal cortex continues to as late as the mid-twenties. Some of us wore our emotions on our sleeve and had less-developed social filters to modify their expression. Feelings were intense. Mood swings were amplified.
Imitation begins at this time, which is an external compulsion. Little kids don’t have it. I recall the assignment in first grade to draw a picture of our house. We didn’t look at the person sitting next to us and copy her paper. (One of things the exercise taught me was that a career as an artist was in doubt.) But as teenagers we begin to imitate dress, style, music, even writing. We try different things out in order to someday develop our true identity.
I often speak at high schools and library sponsored young adult readers/writers groups. The question frequently comes up as to what, for someone obviously past their formative years, do I know or even remember about these years. Well, I helped raise two and I did go through it myself. But most importantly, I wrote it down. I grew up on a farm and that meant hours of driving a tractor up and down a field, or walking through acres of soybeans with a hoe cutting down weeds. Developing a vivid imagination not only helped pass the time, it was a matter of psychological survival. Plus I kept a journal, the kind college writing teachers tell you to keep, and wrote down sayings, quotes, experiences, and passionate love poems, usually about some girl who would have nothing to do with me. The characters of my first novel began in that journal.
So whatever the label, teen, young adult, or coming of age, it is such a great time to write about.