ONE OF THE THINGS I love about writing and reading YA is how damn odd it can be. Because there are very, very few people (especially among readers) who feel their high school years were ripe with normalcy, it makes sense for us YA writers to reflect this by creating a rather idiosyncratic body of characters, voices, and stories. Most of us honed our articulatory skills by (a) sticking our noses in a whole lot of books, (b) listening to a whole lot of music, and (c) standing on the margins while observing everyone else. This makes for a quirky set of authors writing a quirky canon of work.
The writers I love the most are the ones who never write the same book twice. In YA, this covers pretty much everyone. (Even series writers can bring a whole lot of variation to the same characters from book to book.) The quirks of being a wallflower at the Great Literature Party mean we can continually experiment – and we can be more honest in the ways we reflect life. Do you know why readers – both adults and teens – love YA? Because we writers assume they’re smart. We assume they can follow our flights of fancy. We know they are not afraid of emotional truth.
When I was in high school, one of my favorite words was random. In this respect, I have not changed much since high school, though I now have a more nuanced view of randomness – even when things seem completely unconnected, I know there’s a more general connectivity at work. It’s the difference between seeing the world as a series of facts and between seeing the world as a series of themes, I guess. When we, as writers, embrace idiosyncrasy, we are providing the story of a very individual navigation through a very interconnected world.
Fittingly, what’s below is a very idiosyncratic ist of some of my favorite idiosyncratic YA novels. Emphasis on the some of – there are dozens of others I could have included. These just happened to be the ones to come to mind at the present moment. (Disclaimer: Some of them are ones I’ve edited, but none of them are ones I’ve written.) Rather than give summaries, I shall list some of their idiosyncratic ingredients – or idiosyncredients, as it were.
AN IDIOSYNCRATIC LIST OF INDIOSYNCRATIC YA: (alphabetical by title)
ASK THE PASSENGERS by A.S. King
Idiosyncredients: planes passing overhead, label-defiant sexuality, Socrates
THE BRIDES OF ROLLROCK ISLAND by Margo Lanagan
Idiosyncredients: suicidal selkie brides, sea hearts, sons
THE DISENCHANTMENTS by Nina LaCour
Idiosyncredients: upended plans, Sleater-Kinney, road trip
FIRST DAY ON EARTH by Cecil Castellucci
Idiosyncredients: abductee support groups, secrets, star charts
FLY ON THE WALL by E. Lockhart
Idiosyncredients: a metamorphosis, a locker room, a fly’s eye(s) view of crushing
GOING BOVINE by Libba Bray
Idiosyncredients: mad-cow disease, a mouthy angel, Icelandic indie-rock
HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT by Natalie Standiford
Idiosyncredients: late-night radio call-in shows, a love story that isn’t a romance, secondhand bookstores
THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater
Idiosyncredients: killer water horses, buttered tea, a girl named Puck
SUITE SCARLETT by Maureen Johnson
Idiosyncredients: a small hotel in a big city, an eccentric autobiographer, Broadway gossip
WEETZIE BAT by Francesca Lia Block
Idiosyncredients: lovelorn hipsters long before it was hip to be a hipster, fairytale phrasing, Secret Agent Lover Man
WHERE THINGS COME BACK by John Corey Whaley
Idiosyncredients: long lost woodpeckers, a missionary in Africa, a missing brother