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Writer To Reader

Guest Post from Niki Burnham
January 2004

Niki Burnham is the author of several full-length novels for teens and writing as Nicole Burnham counts six romance novels.

The Greats Book You're Not Reading

An author friend of mine recommended I pick up a YA (young adult) book. "Really, Nic, you should be reading YA," she said. "What's on the shelves today is just incredible. I'm reading tons of them." She e-mailed me a while later, adding, "You know, you could totally write YAs. They're you. That's your voice. Sarcastic and funny and fun. Go read one. Now."

I'll admit that even though I thought she'd paid me a terrific compliment, I blew her off the first time. Not only was my writing schedule full-not to mention that I'd never even considered writing for teens-I had a TBR ('to be read') pile the size of Mount Everest. Adding books to the pile that were probably a) saccharine sweet, b) simplistic, and c) focused on issues I haven't thought twice about since high school really didn't interest me.

The second time my friend urged me to pick up a few YA books, I asked her for a few titles to try. We do have similar taste in books, so I figured I'd humor her. (Plus, if I didn't read one, I suspected she'd keep hassling me.) She sent me a list of eight or so titles, and I bought one and read it

The book was ANGUS, THONGS, AND FULL FRONTAL SNOGGING, and it was absolutely nothing like I'd expected. Before I even finished it, I bought the seven remaining on the list-plus the sequels to ANGUS-then went on to make discoveries of my own. Now my friend and I talk YA books all the time-and yes, I'm even writing them. They're not saccharine sweet, simplistic or uninteresting 'issue' books. Rather, they're fast-paced, sophisticated and a flat-out good time. Best of all, today's YA books are written for young adults with the assumption they're adults, not children, which makes these titles fabulous reading for anyone from 14 to 104.

Surprised? Don't be! The stories are as varied as those in the general fiction market-there are paranormal tales, comedies, mysteries, and romance-so there's something for everyone. And yes, there are still 'issue' stories, touching on everything from drug use to gay relationships to teen pregnancy, but the books gracing the shelves today are without a hint of the preachy tone or in-your-face moral lessons many readers imagine whenever YA books are mentioned.

For a sense of the variety available, take the chick-lit feel of popular YA author Cameron Dokey's current release, HOW NOT TO SPEND YOUR SENIOR YEAR. The main character, Jo O'Connor, is a high school senior suddenly uprooted from her home and friends when her father, who's in the witness protection program, suddenly has to move again, taking Jo with him. Their death is faked by the government, but Jo can't resist sneaking back to her high school to talk to her boyfriend one last time. When her boyfriend decides the girl calling herself Jo O'Connor must be Jo's ghost, the results are hysterical-especially when that 'ghost' is nominated for prom queen.

Then there's Sonya Sones' emotional, captivating WHAT MY MOTHER DOESN'T KNOW. Told entirely in free verse, it explores high school-aged Sophie's relationship with boyfriend Dylan, her online chat misadventures, and the crush she harbors for reject/geek Murphy. Anyone who reads this story-no matter what age-will identify with Sophie's gradual discovery of the difference between love and lust.

Contrast those titles with the edgy, best-selling GOSSIP GIRL series, which follows the lives of a group of wealthy, Upper East Side private school teens who have money, access to drugs, and plenty of unsupervised time. Though the GOSSIP GIRL books certainly use language and feature situations that would've been impossible to find on bookstore shelves twenty years ago, they still speak to teens about the reality of peer pressure and society's expectations. These are reads that satisfy a teens' need to understand the world around them and at the same time offer entertainment to both adults and teens. And that goal is being met, at least according to the manager of my local Barnes & Noble, who, as I was browsing the YA section last week, mentioned that the books are being purchased and read by adults as frequently as by teens. Here in Massachusetts, she said, the YA section is the fastest-growing area in nearly all their stores.

Think you might give YA a try? (C'mon, you won't regret it!) Try a few... broaden your reading horizons.... And don't be surprised at the number of seasoned romance authors whose names pop up as you browse. Katie MacAlister writes YA as Katie Maxwell, Meggin Cabot writes YA as both Meg Cabot and Jenny Carroll, and women's fiction author Lynda Sandoval will have two YA titles hitting the shelves in 2005. You can also find historical romances for teens from Lorraine Heath, Karen Hawkins, and Kathryn Smith, among others (like Nicole Burnham, who writes YA as Niki Burnham-hint, hint!)

Order books by Niki Burnham and Nicole Burnham.

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