Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Why YA? Where the Red Fern Grows (Wilson Rawls) as discussed by author Craig MacLachlan

Today, while author Craig MacLachlan waits for his first ya novel to be published, he spends some time talking to us about YA books as part of our ongoing Why YA? series.
I’ve had many memories and great times as an adult, but some of the most defining moments of my life happened during my teen years. I’m going first talk about why I think YA books are important for teenagers and it comes from my own experiences, so first a little history.

When I was twelve my parents divorced and my life changed forever. Any child or teen that goes through a divorce knows what a painful process it can be. It not only affects you instantly, but really never goes away. Within six months after the divorce my dad moved my brother and I twenty-five miles away where we lived with my stepmom who he had married. I lost all my friends and had to make new ones and my mom was now only available via weekend visits and holidays. Yet, after making new friends at this school, two years later we moved halfway across the state and I lost my friends and my mom was now even further away. We then lived in a rental for 4 months, I made friends at the school for three months, then we moved about thirty miles away and I started high school for the second time in those three months. Not only was I being moved around, losing my friends and my mom, I was still getting used to a new mom and would continue that through high school.
During those final four years, which were high school, we never moved so I had a small sense of stability. I met my current wife in 9th grade, made friends, but I was a far cry from the outgoing boy I had been and was shy and withdrawn. I was even bullied by a huge dude for three years of high school until I finally stuck up for myself over the center of a chocolate chip cookie when he knocked it out of my hand. Yes a cookie! Home life was a mixed bag and when I was sixteen I was given the choice to stay living with my dad and stepmom, or move and live with my mom across state for my final two years of high school. So I was given a decision I wish I had never been given and one my real mom new about. Go live with her and give her a chance to see her son and raise me before I became an adult, or stay with my girlfriend of two years and the friends I had made. I stayed, I had to give something up and either way I choice would have left me demoralized.

So the point of my story is that teenagers, for the most part, struggle and deal with instability, pressures, or problems on almost a daily basis in one form or another.

Reading is a stable activity which I used to get myself through a lot of hard times as a teenager. I read The DragonLance Chronicles, The Chronicles of Narnia, Where the Red Fern Grows, White Fang, Call of Wild, Choose Your Own Adventures, and many others.

By reading YA novels, teens are transported into another world outside of their own for a short time which can ease a lot of pain and problems they are dealing with in life. A book is always there for a teen, it never walks out on them, never divorces, never bullies, never complains, never ridicules and a book can become a teens best friend. Teens’ can get inspiration and care about characters with no threat of any type of backlash like from real people. They can learn from characters, situations and hopefully help them cope with their similar struggles. So in my opinion, YA books are a safe haven and a form of therapy for many teenagers and with social media like Twitter, author sites and bloggers. Teenagers are able to connect even better to their books which only enhance their reading experiences.

I have to admit there were (still are some) many ‘adults’ who frowned upon my not only reading YA literature, but writing it as well. Why? I can only guess it was because they thought I was being childish, not grown up and not acting like an adult. I think the biggest problem is that adults have forgotten how to be young and enjoy life. We have become a society so full of expectations concerning how we need to act and behave at certain ages that we have forgotten how to properly live. I never want to become so uptight and stuck up that life becomes all about being serious.

I love adult fantasy and thrillers and always have, but the YA genre has a special place in my heart and I feel it reaches across all ages of life. Adults need to read YA literature because I truly think it brings back a sense of freedom to their lives lost over the years. No matter how old a person is, the teen we once were is still inside of us, forgotten, hidden and locked away. By reading YA novels, adults can remember what it was like to be a teen, connect and better understand their own children. They can learn how to have fun and not take life so seriously. It also allows teens and adults to interact and understand one another on a much more personal level. With teens and adults reading the same books there becomes no sense of age difference that distances them from one another. The teen life is one of ‘in-between’ which is why teenagers feel so alone and that no one understands them. Bridging that gap is why adults should and need to be reading YA literature.

A great YA novel for adults to read, in my opinion, is one of my all-time favorites and encompasses not only family values and teen interactions, but love, loss and accomplishment.

“It’s strange indeed how memories can lie dormant in a man’s mind for so many years. Yet those memories can be awakened and brought forth fresh and new, just by something you’ve seen, or something you’ve heard, or the sight of an old familiar face.” (from Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls)
Where the Red Fern Grows (Wilson Rawls,1961) may not be a current YA novel, but it has stood the test of time and appeals to all ages. It’s a far cry from the influx of supernatural and fantasy YA books nowadays. Yet, no matter what the book is about, they all deal with similar elements which are young adult lives.

Set in real life, Billy must deal with hard work to earn what he wants (2 Redbone Coonhounds), family life, teenage interactions, love and death. Rawls does a masterful job of balancing and interweaving the characters and plot. When reading the novel it feels like you are living Billy’s life. The book demonstrates how adults and children can get along, be a family and enjoy doing things together while maintaining the parental-child relationship role. Billy deals with many emotional struggles which include not only protecting his dogs, but the accidental death of a fellow kid and in the end, his beloved dogs as well. Rawls shows that with willfulness and determination a person can achieve anything they want. This is a book not only for teens, but for adults. The story shows a time when teens and adults were more connected in all facets of life. In fact, the start of the book starts with Billy as an adult and after stopping a fight between a local Redbone Coonhounds and another dog, Billy recalls his youth which is when the story truly begins. This simple element can cause adults nowadays to do the same and remember a time in their lives when they were young and what dilemmas and problems current teenagers may be experiencing.

This book helped me through my teenage years and I fail to recall how many times I read it. To this day, as an adult, reading Where the Red Fern Grows still connects me to so many elements of life.

I write YA novels because of how they make me feel inside. I want teenagers to be able to break away from their daily lives feeling connected and inspired by the characters and story. I also want adults to enjoy my writing as well because the issues and struggles the characters are faced with are similar to ones they once dealt with, or knew someone who had and which are directly related to teenagers today.
About Craig MacLachlan

Craig MacLachlan currently lives in Coeur d’Alene, ID and is married to Christina. His first completed YA paranormal/fantasy novel is Sierra Winters and the Void: Summer’s Shadow, book one of a planned series. Sierra Winters and the Void: Summer’s Shadow is due for publication in 2014 under the MediaAria CDM Ltd. imprint.
Craig is also working on a YA thriller/horror novel and has two short films, Roger and Marbles: A Love Story he co-wrote also completed. Craig recently won third place in a one act screenwriting competition put forth by The Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) Creative Writing Competition.
Follow Craig: