As a teenager, life is arguably the most dramatic it will ever be (without considering raising children and your spouse). For that reason a young adult is receptive and likely to change his or her beliefs or perspectives before the permanent transition into adulthood. Writing for young adults is crucial and should be given more seriousness by authors and readers. I may have been in high school daydreaming about boys more often than not, but the novels that stuck with me were the ones where self-discovery was more important than a high school crush. Novels like The Ranger’s Apprentice, His Dark Materials, and Stravaganza illustrate the necessity of understanding and trusting ourselves before we focus on friends, family, and romance.
The Ranger’s Apprentice
John Flanagan’s character goals for Will in The Ranger’s Apprentice included finding a purpose or career in life before giving himself to others, either in friendship or romance.
One of the most common and absolutely infuriating questions young adults are asked is, “What are you going to be when you graduate high school/college/drop out?” While a select few knew that we were destined for hospitals, the military, the arts, or business, most of the population spends years figuring out what it is that they love. I knew writing wouldn’t make me a millionaire but my passion burned hot enough for me to pursue it. Will, protagonist of RA, spends his entire childhood and most of his teenage years believing he was meant to live his life as a warrior until he discovers his skill and passion for rangering (that’s a word, right?). In real life, a person will let us down more often than we would care to admit or think about, but a purpose in life is what we need to keep pushing ourselves. Relationships, spiritual beliefs, and fun can only keep us content if we strive to better ourselves in a career or even personally. Flanagan’s focus on the first five books was centered on Will’s self-discovery and realizing that no matter who left or betrayed him, he would still have a purpose to pursue, and that is a reminder that every young adult needs at least once a week to keep them on track to who they want to be because they can’t please others until they are pleased with themselves.
As a writer, The Ranger’s Apprentice encouraged me to cut open a character completely before trying to understand how they fit into the lives of others. Character development is as important to the writer as it is to the reader because once we know the character as well as ourselves, we are more willing to let them write their own story and take on a power of their own. Flanagan originally wanted to write five books, but Will refused to let him stop and inspired twelve stories for the world to read. One of my greatest goals is to have a character who can encourage me to write his or her story even when I don’t feel like I’m good enough to finish it.
His Dark Materials
After a person understands who he or she wants to be, the next step is finding a companion who will connect with them without complicating the matter with love, and Philip Pullman honed in on this idea and crafted a story of friendship before relationship in his trilogy, His Dark Materials.
I hate to admit that I have not read this series since high school, but the connection between Lyra and Will (which basically should tell you that anyone named Will must be a good guy) has always been one that I admired because of their determination to protect their family, friends, and daemon familiars. The chemistry was always mulling beneath the surface, but Pullman insisted in creating a solid, unbreakable friendship before he even entered the relationship possibility. It seems that if a young adult stumbles or becomes lost their first instinct is to throw themselves onto another person as though that other person does not have passions of their own. Too many mainstream YA novels rely on the boy and girl dynamic to carry the plot and people are already too fickle without tossing teenage hormones into the mix. Lyra and Will met in Subtle Knife as two young adults who were in need of a friend, and Pullman ensured that this is exactly what they found. Lyra’s determination doesn’t falter and she lets down her guard only when she realizes that her mission is nearly complete. There are many instances in life where friends drift apart from time, distance, or unreciprocated feelings, and to read a story where the friendship triumphed to reserve itself is uplifting for any young adult reader who is struggling with love, lust, and crushes. However, if friendships or passion are something a reader lacks, then his or her mind must next be opened up to different possibilities and learning situations.
One of my fellow writers, Eric, asked me why I didn’t research His Dark Materials before I wrote this post. At first, I almost agreed with him. How could I write about how it affected me and my writing without going back to the inspiration? Fortunately, Pullman has had a lasting effect on me even though it has been years since I read his writing. Lyra is a strong, independent, and wise woman, and Will is an aloof, compassionate, and reliable man. If I could create my dream characters (which is only partly possible because we all know characters take on attributes of their own), I would want characters who could resemble Lyra and Will.
While many themes surround the Stravaganza series, Mary Hoffman’s novels focused on gaining knowledge and protecting those who were in need rather than romance.
For anyone who has not read this six-book series, Hoffman introduces a new protagonist for each book and brings back the ones from previous stories. Each time, the plot is focused on the Stravaganti, the time travelers, fighting against the Di Chimici, the Talian version of the Italian de Medici family. For every Stravaganti that travels back 400 years from modern-day England, a new job is assigned ranging from political assistant to bookkeeping to pharmacy. The Anglos are expected to work and learn while they travel to old Talia, because without knowledge of history, defense, and politics they would not be able to successfully defeat the assassinating family of the di Chimici. Luciano, the first modern-day Stravaganti and protagonist, encounters Arianna on his first trip to Bellezza (a version of Venice) and their love affair faces ups and downs throughout the series, but the main plot point is always how the Stravaganti use what they learn to protect their coordinating cities. Even young adult novels that don’t center on romance fall back on violence or wars to encourage a reader to continue (YA dystopian, anyone?). Hoffman is one of my favorite authors because of her ability to balance romance, action, and strategy within the plot and to create a novel that would not be complete without anyone of these.
Hoffman’s Stravaganza introduces a new protagonist in each book, and this kind of writing is always risky to perform. I loved Luciano and Sky but couldn’t stand Matt or Laura. I only liked Georgia and Isabel depending on the situation. I usually create characters who would be well-received by an audience, but the men and women who annoy us are also the ones who stick with us long after the ones we admire slip from our memories. It’s important to include characters who will improve and strengthen the story even when we don't want anything to do with them, and I still struggle with that lesson.
While romance is usually used as a crutch, The Ranger’s Apprentice, His Dark Materials, and The Stravaganza Series illustrate the need for young adults to understand and pursue opportunities that don’t involve starting a family and it is because so few popular series focus on this idea that the Young Adult genre has held my passion for so many years. I write Young Adult to guide the readers because the characters in novels are who inspired me the most in high school and college. If a character intently focused on his passion for sports or the arts, I felt more compelled to write and prove to myself that I could be as devoted to my passion as they were. Because of these characters and novels, I have decided that my first love is for the confused souls like myself, and that is why I write Young Adult.
If you're interested in checking out these series, click on the links below!