I don’t remember who it was, but some author I enjoyed reading was asked why she wrote “young adult” books, and she told them she didn’t. She just wrote books.
I’d like to say the writer was Madeleine L’Engle, and I’d love to believe I got the quote right, but I probably didn’t.
I’m full of sympathy for her though (assuming it was L’Engle, and assuming the quote was anywhere close to what she said). I didn’t realize that I was writing a young adult novel (series) until my editor told me so.
You might reasonably wonder how I could be unaware of this. “The Legion of Nothing: Rebirth” is about Nick Klein, a teenager who inherits his grandfather’s powered armor. He then proceeds to have the experiences we all have when growing up—hanging out with friends, trying to figure how to approach a girl he likes, and participating in fights that trash huge chunks of his city’s downtown.
Yeah, okay. Not everyone does the last one.
But anyway, the characters in the novel try to figure out their lives because they’re no longer children, and aren’t quite adults. If those sort of concerns don’t put it into the young adult category, I don’t know what would.
And yet… That wasn’t really the point. For me, Nick and his friends had these concerns because I felt these were the concerns that he’d most naturally have.
There’s a lot more going on in the book than that. There are themes of security vs. freedom, and whether you have the right to take away a person’s freedom to do something without telling them so.
There’s also the question of violence. During college, I spent a lot of time doing Tae Kwon Do, a Korean martial art that’s much like karate. As I began to take Tae Kwon Do, I was also taking a course on Christian ethics and how they have changed over time. One of the sections was on Christians relationship to violence and war. It’s more complex than you might think, and has, of course, changed over time. It includes both pacifism, and people who have argued that Christians can ethically serve in the military.
As a result, I had to give both pacifism and violence more thought than many people. On the intellectual end, I could name people who believed in a wide variety of approaches to justifying (or not justifying) violence. On the practical end, my instructor pushed me to think about what I was willing to do to another human being in a fight. Was I willing to maim? Was I willing to kill?
If I wasn’t, I shouldn’t practice moves that maim or kill. I should practice moves that take people down without damaging them.
That’s in Legion of Nothing as well even if it’s not obvious. I wanted to write a superhero story that didn’t glory in violence. Instead, I wrote a story where blows can permanently damage people, and hopefully one where the violence is exciting, but has consequences.
It may be that after I spent time thinking about those themes, the more obvious “coming of age” themes were less noticeable to me. That might explain why I never noticed that it was a “young adult” novel.
I just think of it as a novel. I believe that young adults and adults can both enjoy it.
Jim Zoetewey grew up in Holland, Michigan, near where L Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz and other books in that series.
Admittedly, Baum moved away more than sixty years before Jim was even born, but it's still kind of cool. He's a web developer, a
religion and sociology major, and the author of the superhero series The Legion of Nothing. He's also not sure why he's writing
this in the third person, but he's never seen an author bio written in first person and doesn't want to rock the boat.