Friday, June 8, 2012

Getting real and leaving the nest

In this interview over at Three Guys One Book, Joshua Henkin said: "But you’re right—in terms of where my interests as a writer lie, they’re in realist fiction. I think the world as we know it, the world as I know it, is infinitely wondrous; I don’t need any more magic than that."

Exactly.

To write realist fiction in today's YA world is to feel a bit second-best, a bit out of step. The success of realist writers like John Green and Sarah Dessen notwithstanding, it's undeniable that most of the attention right now goes to fantasy, paranormal, and dystopian titles, led by blockbusters such as Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games. Most realist writers are urged by others, or perhaps even ask themselves occasionally: Oh why don't you just go ahead and throw in some vampires/zombies/wizards/angels/apocalyptic events already?

And there are a few reasons why I don't. The biggest is: although I've read some great books in those categories, books I recommend, those genres are not where I feel most at home. Now, I never say never. I may someday try my hand at, say, a ghost story, but if I ever do, it won't be a case of "throwing in" a paranormal element to try to fit in with the cool kids. People who write excellent fantasy and paranormal books do it, for the most part, because they're fans of the genre, they love their imaginary worlds, and they're excited by their stories. If I tried to fake it, readers would be able to tell, so I won't write it unless I can do so with genuine enthusiasm.

Right now I am--like Joshua Henkin--still so dazzled by the possibilities of realism that it's what I'm writing (and mostly what I'm reading).

A staple of YA literature, whether realist or paranormal, is the coming-of-age story. And I want to share a real-life coming-of-age story that's up on Tracy Abell's blog right now. It's a very short story, and it's told mostly in pictures. But it captures perfectly that moment of "leaving the nest"--literally. The last photo on the post especially got to me: it's the essence of what I try to capture in any YA protagonist, even though in this case it's a hawk rather than a human.

As a supplement to her post, the moment when the final hawk (the one looking like he is dealing with the weight of the world in that last picture) leaves the nest is captured here. To me, that sequence of photos and that video rank right up there with the best YA books. The next time someone asks me why I read and write YA, I should just point them to Tracy's blog post.

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