In honor of Young Adult month, I’d love to talk about my absolute, hands down, favorite young adult author and the reasons why I think she nails it in every one of her books.
Kimberly Derting, author of The Body Finder series, The Pledge series, and The Taking series, is not only a brilliant author with unique concepts, she roots her books in the core components of what makes a young adult book successful.
First one is voice: Voice is always a crucial in any genre story you write, but the young adult genre is so crucial because it’s ever-changing and always specific and significant to modern day teenagers. They don’t use a certain slang word if it isn’t important, they don’t use certain speech patterns if they don’t identify with them, and they will absolutely call you out for being “old” if you get it wrong. In each of Derting’s books she gives readers a strong, female teen with a fresh voice that is current. The more authentic the voice, the easier it is to connect and root for the character, and in each of these series you fall in love with the girl on the very first page, and Derting’s attention to this particular detail is what makes it so effortless.
Second one is stakes: There is a huge difference between what a young adult values over what an adult would. Teenagers are experiencing so many firsts, all while trying to uncover who they are at their core, so incidents that may seem small to an adult can be life-altering to a teenager—like their first love, or first brush with grief. Responding to each new stake in their lives is a key factor in reading and writing a great young adult story—the response has to be genuine. Just like their voice has to be authentic, so do their actions, and in each of Derting’s series you can easily see the motivation and desire behind the main character’s actions. They’re rooted in the mindset of a teenager, and the stakes are upped to another degree when experiencing difficulties or love or danger for the first time.
Last up is concept: Again, concept is always important in any genre, but in young adult you not only need realistic teenagers that are easy to relate to, you need an engaging concept that keeps readers flipping through the pages until they reach the end. There are thousands of young adult books to chose from, the market is stacked with variety, so a unique concept is key in garnering the reader’s attention. In each of Derting’s series she hits readers with a fresh concept with a hint of fantasy in each one. Though there be fantastical elements in each story, it still reads like contemporary, making the reader believe the events could actually happen, which is such a brilliant way of sinking the reader even deeper into the story. She keeps you hooked—whether it be with a girl who can sense the dead, a girl who can speak any language, or a girl who has been abducted by aliens—and she does this by keeping her character’s authentic, holding on to the modern teen voice, and giving readers one hell of a ride from start to finish.
If you haven’t read any of her books, I highly recommend them. Her work is what I set the bar against when attempting to pen my own young adult masterpiece, or when I’m picking up a new young adult author’s work. And if you’re working on your own YA story, think about the above three key components I’ve touched on and see how well they apply to your own work. Sharpening each one of these elements will help dig you into the genre and set your fingers flying over the keyboard.