My ninth book, Focus. Click. Wind, was released this fall and I’ve been on a book tour doing events and readings at bookstores, festivals and conferences. It’s been an exciting whirlwind and has given me a great opportunity to talk to people about the book and its themes.
Along the way, several people have said to me, “I LOVED the book! But why is it sold as a Y.A. book? What makes it a Y.A.?”
It’s a good question. As adults, we read books with all kinds of protagonists of all ages. We’re comfortable reading about the world from the perspective of a child, a teenager, a young adult, an aged adult –– sometimes all in the same book. We can read a story written from the perspective of a tiger or a leaf. So why does this question come up when a book is marketed as a book for young adults? Do we think that a teenager can't see the world from other perspectives? Or does it imply “If I loved this book, how can it speak to a teenager? How can a teenager relate to the world as I see it?”
I think there is an inherent cultural bias toward youth. People say to me, "Is a young person ready for these big issues?" And yet if you think back on your time as a teenager, isn’t that exactly what you were ready for? Leaving aside the sex and drugs –– although, what teenager leaves that aside, really? –– I wrote a book that reaches out to the concerns of vibrant, passionate, committed young people that exist today. While the book is set in 1968, I am paralleling today’s activist movements. Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion, Black Lives Matter, Every Child Matters, The Occupy Movement –– the reasons that young people are out on protests today come from the same place as the protests of the 1960s. I think young people see injustice more clearly than adults. People over 30 obfuscate problems with complexity. They see many sides of a coin, and how hard it is to solve things. There was something to Abbie Hoffman's "Don't trust anyone over 30."
But from the ages of 15 – 25, you are hugely impatient and angry with adults for the mess they have made with the world. You are furious with adults’ inability to understand the important things in life. You want to change the world and make it a better place. And maybe the adults need to get out of the way for you to do that.
Although Focus. Click. Wind is set it 1968, I would hope a contemporary teenager will recognize the questions Billie asks and her urgency to fix the world. I also believe that if I’ve done my job well, anyone who has ever been a teenager will recognize themselves or their friends in the story. I hope it will stir up memories of the passions you had as a young person, and speak to your teenage self from the perspective of the adult you have become. At the same time, I want it to resonate with a teenager today, whose whole adult life is ahead of them. The story then becomes a chance for us all to be in an urgent dialogue together.
Beatrix Potter said, “I don’t ‘lower my standards’ to write for young people.” Young people are the most discerning readers of all. Literature that is marketed for them needs to be dynamic, exciting, challenging, and accurate. The standards are incredibly high. The research and attention to detail has to be impeccable.
Frankly, if you want to read some of the best new books being published today, you should look at the YA shelves. There are increasing numbers of adult book clubs that are dedicated to YA fiction. Books like The Door of No Return, by Kwame Alexander, Torch, by Lyn Miller-Lachmann, and Out of Darkness, by Ashley Hope Pérez, are some of the best books you will read, bar none. YA books are edgy, provocative and complex. They tell strong, character-driven stories.
But none of this deals with the marketing issue. That I can’t solve. Marketing exists in silos. It takes a brave and financially daring publisher to market to two audiences. When The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night came out in the UK, it was successfully marketed to both young people and adults. But that is rare. It’s nothing that a small Canadian press has the resources to tackle.
And so, I come back to the decisions I made with Focus. Click. Wind., a book that has a 17-year-old protagonist, a book that I wrote for both young people and adults. I chose my small Canadian publisher, Groundwood Books, because they are recognized internationally for their quality. I chose them knowing that I would have a chance to work with one of the best editors in the country. But I knew I wouldn’t have a large marketing team that could market to both markets.
It is my hope that in channelling my inner 17-year-old, Focus. Click. Wind will speak to young and older adults. Having been on a tour to read to people of my generation and two generations younger than mine, I'm feeling that I am stretching across time with this book. I hope that you can join me for the ride, and then recognize yourself in the adolescents you see around you.