Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Why YA? Twilight (Stephenie Meyer) and Impossible (Nancy Werlin) as discussed by author Lea Nolan

Why YA? Because it’s important. And because I know what it’s like to live without it. 

Today, Lea Nolan, author of the new ya book Conjure from Entangled Publishing, shares her Why YA? story with us.  Conjure is book 1 in the The Hoodoo Apprentice.  In this awesome adventure there are messages in a bottle from the past, secret pirate bounties and demon dogs.  The fact that Nolan is writing ya is remarkable when you read what she shares in her story.
I couldn’t read until the third grade. This deficiency was likely due to my attendance at a low-performing elementary school where my teachers didn’t realize I wasn’t learning, and the fact that I likely suffered from attention deficit disorder as a child. After moving to a new school and receiving intensive remedial help, plus a lot of hard work, it finally clicked. And I promptly fell in love with books. The stories I clutched in my hands transported me to fantastical worlds where anything was possible and my imagination soared. More importantly, books provided a refuge from my chaotic childhood, which was dominated by my mother’s battle with a devastating chronic disease, and a sibling’s budding serious mental illness. Quite simply, I read to escape.  

By the time I hit junior high, I had read just about every well-known stand-alone book and series for kids. My favorite authors were of course Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, Madeline L’Engle, EL Konigsburg, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and EB White, but I devoured any and all books that crossed my path, then licked my fingers clean reliving the plot and character’s choices in my head.  

But then I grew up a little, and grew out of these books. Since it was the early 1980s, there wasn’t much left that was geared to teens. So I jumped to the next tier of stories that kids like me were reading, books written by VC Andrews, Jean M. Auel, Stephen King, Anne Rice, and a whole lot of Harlequin romances. Don’t get me wrong, these provided great entertainment, but they weren’t written for a twelve year old. Like all adult conversations a kid might eavesdrop on, I comprehended their words, but I couldn’t completely understand their meaning. How could I? I wasn’t the intended audience, and I certainly didn’t have enough life experience to truly empathize with the adult characters and their problems.  

So I embarked on my teenage years without true literary companions. There were no coming of age stories to help me grapple with the mounting pressure of my mother’s sickness and increasing disability, the havoc created by an equally ill and abusive sibling, or the typical trials of an American teenager struggling to find acceptance, dabbling with alcohol and testing the boundaries of intimacy with boys.  

Eventually I worked it all out, persevered and came out the other side relatively unscathed, going on to college and graduate school and establishing a successful career as a health policy researcher and writer. But looking back I realize I traversed that journey on my own.   

Flash forward to my late thirties when a friend handed me Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. A teen book? I was sure I’d hate it or at the very least would suffer through it. But she persisted, extolling its virtues and raving about the power of its romance. Oh-kay, sure, fine. I agreed if only to gain a deeper understanding of how my friend who had a PhD and taught at the collegiate level could be so drawn in by a book about teenagers.  

Well, I did read it. And I fell under its spell too. Meyer’s ability to tap into the deep longing and heart-gripping intensity of first love knocked me on my bottom and rekindled powerful emotions I’d long forgotten amid my daily life as a wife, mom and career woman.  
So I started reading more YA books. Partly because, like so many others who’d read Twilight, I was thinking of writing my own book, but mostly because I was really excited by this new genre than didn’t exist when I was young. And that’s when Impossible by Nancy Werlin changed my life. This book, based on the song “Scarborough Fair” blends the very best of paranormal elements—a horrific curse which has doomed generations of women in one family, an evil Elfin Knight, and cryptic tasks that must be accomplished to end the enchantment—with realistic contemporary issues faced by teens everyday.  

Lucy, the heroine, is a foster child who survives a brutal sexual assault that results in a teenage pregnancy, while contending with her mother’s madness, and her own mounting fear that she herself will go insane. Though it’s set in a fantastical world where demonic faeries lash out against unsuspecting women, it is rooted in the here and now and filled with issues that teenagers face everyday. In the truest sense, Impossible is a coming of age story in which Lucy struggles with the most inconceivable challenges, both paranormal and terrestrial, to save herself and her child.  

Impossible blew me away. This wasn’t just a teen romance that got my heart pumping. It reached across the decades and spoke to the teen me that never had the chance to read it. How would my teenage self have responded to a book like Impossible? I think I would have relished it. Lucy had serious mommy issues, and as much as I loved my own, so did I. And though I didn’t understand the extent of my sibling’s fledgling and yet-to-be diagnosed mental illness, I was certainly aware of the daily turmoil, violence and dysfunction that swirled around her and thus my entire household. Impossible would have made me feel less alone.

Suddenly, I was sure I’d write my own book, and that I’d write YA. It was like finding something I didn’t realize was lost, but knew I desperately needed. 

And that’s why YA is important. Regardless of genre, YA books address issues that are relevant to young readers who are striving to discover themselves during a challenging and sometimes turbulent time. When adults read YA, it gives them a glimpse of teens’ lives and helps them remember how giddy, dramatic, exciting and frustrating those years can be. And best of all, most YA books accomplish this without being heavy-handed, preachy or sounding like an after-school special. YA books let readers know they’re not alone, that they can survive and even thrive through troubling circumstances. They’re the perfect companions on the journey to adulthood.

Lea Nolan writes the kinds of stories she sought as a teen—smart paranormals with bright heroines, crazy-hot heroes, diabolical plot twists, plus a dose of magic, a draft of romance, and a sprinkle of history. She’s holds degrees in history and women’s studies concentrating in public policy and spent fifteen years as a health policy analyst and researcher. She lives in Maryland with her heroically supportive husband and three clever children. Her debut YA novel, CONJURE, book one in The Hoodoo Apprentice Series releases on October 23, 2012 from Entangled Publishing under the Entangled Teen imprint. You can learn more about Lea on her website, on Facebook, Twitter and on Goodreads.  CONJUREis available at both Barnes and Noble and Amazon

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