I can’t tell you how often I get curious looks when I tell others I read YA books. Their expressions get even more clouded when I reference reading something dark and sexy like Eve Silver’s Body of Sin and say I’m following it up with Richelle Mead’s Bloodlines.
The concept might appear incongruous, but that’s simply because those skeptical folks aren’t reading the right YA books.
Books end up in the young adult section for two reasons (or a merger thereof):
1. Because the book is written directly for teens, or
2. Because the main character is in high school or college.
Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with writing books targeting a specific audience. Most YA novels pull back on the sex and violence, and instead focus on the emotional heavy that coincides with those events. But the best books—be they YA or adult—always focus on simply telling the story. Those authors who write their characters honestly and aren’t focused on making their writing less complex or doing a “kid version” of their adult books will always impress you.
It’s the main reason my favorite Mead series is Vampire Academy. I love Georgina Kincaid as well as Eugenie Markham (though I often want to shake her for continuing to date Kiyo when he’s clearly a douchebag). But when it comes to the most complex emotional story, the deepest character development and mind-blowing twists, I’ll give it up to Vampire Academy every time.
All four of Mead’s series feature strong heroines, complicated men, societal or family expectations and quick, precise prose. She doesn’t lessen the emotional blows; for example, one book features a teen dhampir (she has to cope with getting the one thing she wants most, only to have it ripped away in the worst way she could imagine). There’s still heady romance. The emotional sparks are there, but with a scaled back play-by-play.
Mead isn’t the only author of adult titles to write with the same style and honesty in her YA books. Kim Harrison hasn’t ever been big on going into detail for sex scenes in her Hollows novels. She’s also never been one to make romance easy. No one magically falls in love without complications from life. She brings this same truth to her Madison Avery young adult series. And when it comes to Madison and both the light and dark reapers—oh, Harrison throws in plenty of plot twists.
Sharie Kohler was able to take her skills from building up romantic tension in historicals and replicate it with the intensity of first love in her Draki series (written under Sophie Jordan penname). And urban fantasy author Lilith Saintcrow (writing as Lili St. Crow) funneled dark overtones and heady action into her YA Strange Angels series that will please those who appreciate her gritty Dante Valentine and Jill Kismet series.
Not everyone gets it right. There are those who write YA because they think it’s easy (it’s not) or they think it’s just a cash cow. And then there are those who dumb down the language and the character development because that must be how kids talk and think. (Dear P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast: a teenager who has killed others, who helped lead a war, who fights for her people probably uses real curse words.)
But those authors who treat YA novels—and their readers—with the same respect as any other work deserve your time. I’d love to see your suggestions in the comments of great YA novels that don’t talk down to readers and make adult readers swoon.
While Chelsea Mueller runs Vampire Book Club, she won’t turn down a sexy werewolf, demon or faerie. (Her husband often reminds her that she’s taken.)