Sep 9 2011 9:30am

Getting YA Right: Richelle Mead, Kim Harrison, Sophie Jordan, Lili St. Crow

Bloodlines by Richelle MeadI 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.

Frostbite: A Vampire Academy Novel by Richelle MeadIt’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.

Strange Angels by Lili St. CrowSharie 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.)

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Mippy Carlson
1. Mippy Carlson
Here, here! I'm a big fan of YA books, as well. But like you, not just any YA books. And can I just say I whole-heartedly agree that any character who has battled and killed others more than likely does use a few curse words now and again. I just don't think it's realistic to think that people can live in a brutal world and still say something inane like, "Oh darn." Not that I'm promoting the use of bad language, mind you. I just don't think it's very realistic in most cases. One of the reason I love Lili St. Crow's series so much is because Dru is a kick ass girl and makes no apologies for it. Hell, if I saw a zombie coming after me I'd certainly scream a few expletives. :)
2. ChelseaMueller
@Mippy - The heroine in House of Night uses the word "bullpoopie" frequently. Maybe when she was young and naive, I could buy it, but 9 books in -- with lots of death, battling evil, etc. -- it just doesn't ring true.
Heather Waters
3. HeatherWaters
Sooo...I immediately went out and bought Strange Angels & Betrayals after working on this post. Can't wait to start it. Dru sounds pretty badass.

But those authors who treat YA novels—and their readers—with the same respect as any other work deserve your time.

YES. This.

Not paranormal, but the first book that comes to mind as a suggestion is Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. Thought it was lovely.
4. ChelseaMueller
@redline_ - While my area is certainly paranormal, the same applies across the board for YA. Maintaining the integrity of the story and respecting one's readers will always yield better books.

I've heard several people sing the praises of Jellicoe Road. Is it a contemp. YA romance?
Mippy Carlson
5. Taragel
I love YA fiction. It's my genre of choice these days and there are so many fantastic authors. I'm not really a paranormal fiction fan, so I haven't read these, though I've heard great, great things about Sarah Rees Brennan's Demon's Lexicon series (and she's such a smart blogger) that I'll probably start there with PN stuff.

e. Lockhart has some fabulous books and series with subtle but definite feminist heroines. Sarah Dessen, John Green, Chris Crutcher are fantastic straight contemporary authors. I'm just about to start Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle series.

I have to say about Jellicoe Road that it's one of the strangest reading experiences I've ever had where the first 100 pages of the book are completely confusing and kind of infuriating (unreliable narrator, definite gaps in the narration and lots of timeline trickery) but the last 100 pages are sublimely rewarding and amazing. It's like a book that goes from 2 stars to 5 stars as you read. Sorta surprising.
Mippy Carlson
7. Heather Jensen
I read mostly YA books. It's not just because that's the genre I write in, either. I write in it because I love it so much. There's just something about YA books that other books don't capture. I think you hit the nail on the head with the emotional loads that YA characters carry. And maybe there's something about not being an adult yet, and still having immensely insane responsibilities as most YA MC's do, that is appealing. I'm also a huge fan of Vampire Academy. Although, I find Zoey Redbird an endearing character from the House of Night novels as well. I don't care that she doesn't curse. Some of the quirks PC and Kristin gave her character are what make me laugh out loud (in a good way) when I read the books. For instance, her love of any brown pop. That just sounds like a teenage thing to me, and so I love Zoey for it.
8. ChelseaMueller
@Heather Jensen - There's something to be said for experiencing love/heartbreak/pain/injustice for the first time and the powerful emotional blows coupled with that. You're right, it's something about not being an adult yet that adds an edge there.

I actually (mostly) like the HoN series. But I think it's one that doesn't translate to adult readers nearly as well. (Aphrodite makes me laugh out loud in nearly every book.)
Mippy Carlson
9. JessS
I totally agree! One of my favourite things about VA is how mature it feels, and not remotely dumbed down for teenagers. I've read her other series and seriously, the only differences is that the main characters in the adult series are adults, swear more and have more sex (with WAY more details). And Kiyo is totally a douche (I've pretty much loved Dorian since book 2, despite his sometimes annoyingness).
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