Authors Tamora Pierce, Rachel Hartman, and Lish McBride, who all write Young adult (YA) fiction, sat down at the University Temple Methodist Church on Wednesday to discuss their new novels “Tempests and Slaughter,” “Tess of the Road,” and “Pyromantic.” Pierce, who was dubbed by McBride as being at “the forefront of YA fiction,” published her first YA book in the ‘80s and has been writing prolifically ever since. Pierce was the main draw for attendees of the event. The enthusiastic audience wasn’t dominated by the “target audience” of YA, but was composed of readers of all ages, demonstrating that books geared toward younger people do not only appeal to a teenage audience.
“The books kind of grow with you,” said Monica McCurry, an attendee who cites Pierce’s fiction as one of the first YA books she ever read. “I’ve read Pierce’s novels maybe four times. As an adult, I’m still connecting with the characters, just in different ways. I still read YA because their morals are stronger. Adult books have horrible things happen in them, and so do young adult novels, but YA has perspective. Since they’re young, the characters are more open, they talk about their feelings more, and that gives you more closure.”
YA fiction, which is full of brave, headstrong, mostly female heroines who stand up to authority and earn the right to be taken seriously, has been one of the most positive forms of media that I consumed while growing up. And I still do read it, despite snide comments from adults and peers that they “don’t count” as “real” novels.
Pierce was driven to writing because she was disappointed by the endings of her own favorite novels that she read as a kid. At the close of all of these books, she was vexed that all the women would settle down, or give part of themselves up.
“I was tired of being told ‘girls can’t,’” Pierce said. “I try not to be preachy, or overly political, but the fact is that everything I write is dealing with things of the real world that I feel the screaming need to talk about it.”
Even Hartman cited Pierce as an inspiration, noting that “The Song of the Lioness” books were the first that she had encountered where a girl got her period.
“I think a lot about stories, and why we tell them. For me, what I think stories are for is to be a roadmap. Not to be a guide necessarily, but to give the reader a sense that people have passed this way before,” Hartman said. “If I had read my novel as a teenager, it wouldn’t have saved me one iota of heartbreak. But it would have given me hope that I will find my way back to myself.”
YA books definitely aren’t all warm feelings and idealism though. They deal with hard truth, which is another criticism that the authors talked about facing with their work.
“There was a time when it was thought that children were supposed to be protected, and I knew that was nonsense. I knew that kids were into anything, and they wanted to learn, they didn’t want to be protected,” Pierce said. “And so I started addressing the things that were out there that would be very disagreeable surprises if kids were forced to face them later in life.”
All the authors agreed on the responsibility that YA has to give kids a chance to form opinions and talk about the difficult things that their books tended to focus on. And it was obvious by the enthusiasm and age of the crowd that these books had done just that for them, just like it had for me when I was growing up.
“The characters in Pierce’s books made me a better person, they helped me make life decisions,” McCurry said. “I come back to them because the stories have a lot of positivity and forgiveness.”
Both Pierce’s and Hartman’s new books are continuations of stories they have told before, with characters who were originally on the fringes now taking center stage. Expect “Tempests and Slaughter” and “Tess of the Road” to follow in the authors’ previous footsteps, as they use new stories to reveal the heartbreak of adolescence and the growth that comes with it.
Reach writer Charlotte Houston at email@example.com. Twitter: @choustoo