Camp Wordsmith

Camp Wordsmith: Why YA?

For the next year, Christa (Hooked on Books), Jen (Almost Grown Up) and I will be posting about our writing adventures. We’ll be checking in every Saturday with our word counts and story updates, as well as discussions on craft and inspiration. If all goes well, we may even have novels ready for revisions and beta readers by the end of the year!

Week 2

Word Count: 1,200

Stage: Writing/outlining

You may not know it simply from talking to me on Twitter or from my blog posts, but I’m a “third culture kid.”  Basically I’m “a person who has spent a significant part of [their] developmental years outside the parents’ culture…frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.” (David Pollock)

I look like a Filipino, I speak the language, but I’ve never really taken to the culture. My thoughts are always in English, and my favourite shows/books/movies/bands are Western. The university I attended was chock-full of students who regularly spent time abroad. Now you may ask what this has to do with YA fiction, and rightfully so. The 10+ years I spent in Philadelphia were enough to change the way I lived forever, but as a creative writing senior, I had to consider how both the American and Filipino cultures have shaped me as a writer:

I flounder when people ask about my Filipino-ness, illustrating just how much self-discovery is still needed. When it comes to my personal biculturalism, one could say that it is almost like adolescence all over again, learning and relearning things about myself and the way these two cultures have shaped me as a person.

In that light, I have grown to focus on young adult (YA) fiction. Most of the writers that have shaped the way I approach writing are ones that I was introduced to as a child. Jesse Shiedlower, an editor-at-large on the Oxford English Dictionary staff, explained the appeal of the genre thus:

When you talk to people about the books that have meant a lot to them, it’s usually books they read when they were younger because the books have this wonder in everyday things that isn’t bogged down by excessively grown-up concerns or the need to be subtle or coy.

It’s easy to point to the successes of J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer and dismiss children’s fiction as nothing more than an escape from daily life. No one would deny that the chance to leave this mundane world and travel to Hogwarts is irresistible. As a victim of bullying and racism (from my own “countrymen”), how could I not fall in love with that dream? But YA fiction didn’t become my favourite genre because of a fantasy.

YA is not limited to high school drama and magical creatures. It is also death and pain and heartbreak and war, because that is the kind of world we live in. The genre is too often assumed to be rife with escape mechanisms, due to the success of series like Gossip Girl and Twilight. Novels like The Hunger Games succeed because they make teenagers think about what kind of people they are, and the decisions that they control, young as they are. 

There is an indomitable freedom in YA fiction. No one’s characters are under pressure to be perfect or perfectly broken, because they’re teens. They don’t know what the future will bring, and so they throw themselves at life. They are honest in a way most adults forget to be. As a writer of YA fiction, you can’t hide from your characters or their problems. They force you to face your own fears and insecurities. I faced years of resentment and anger toward my time in the Philippines. The stories I choose to write have taken on that issue: all of them, through no conscious effort, concern people who are caught up and betrayed by people and events that they once trusted.

Authors like John Green and J.K. Rowling encourage their readership to open their eyes to the negativity in the world and in themselves. Then they encourage readers to actually do something about it. Good literature stays with and motivates its audience beyond the last page. It would be my honour to contribute to that work in my own small way.

Don’t forget to read Christa and Jen’s posts too!


Categories: Camp Wordsmith

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4 replies »

  1. You lived in Philadelphia for 10 years! It’s so sad I didn’t know you then! So close…so far…

    While I’ve never been in the situation you’re in, I’ve read plenty of YA novels where the protagonist has, so through those authors, I can understand a little bit of what you mean. And that’s another great thing about books: They can even make you empathize with what others go through or, if you share a similar journey, make you feel as though you aren’t alone!!


    • I know! I’m saving up for a long visit soon, so hopefully we can see each other then. And thank you for reading this post! Christa, Jen and I are pretty nervous about this project and every encouraging word counts. ❤

  2. It’s because you have such a strong reason for writing that I know that one day I’m going to see your book up on my shelf. Screw alphabetical order, I’ll be putting it right next to my copies of the Lunar Chronicles. I want a U_M girl shelf!

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