Friday, July 13, 2018

Why Read (or Write) YA? By Jacqueline Seewald

 When I attended Rutgers University for my M.L.S. degree, I took the additional courses needed to specialize in becoming an educational media specialist—a fancy description for a school librarian. I took a course in children’s literature and another in young adult lit. Both courses required reading a huge number of books and reviewing them. However, I very much enjoyed doing this.

As to young adult literature, I often felt the novels were better written than many of those for adults, something our professor said as well. So it’s no surprise that I decided to write some of my own. As an English teacher at the high school level I taught novels like J.D. Salinger’s THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and Golding’s LORD OF THE FLIES. These are just a few of the classics of YA literature worthy of note. I believe every author should try writing at least one meaningful coming-of-age book.

My novel THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER has proved popular with readers. It was written for teenage girls, as was STACY’S SONG. But the truth is that adult readers can and do connect with these books as well.

Black Opal Books has now brought out WITCH WISH, my current YA novel. I think it will be a good read for adult readers as well as teens.

Here’s something about the book:

Val Williams believes she will never be as pretty or as popular as her older sister Ailene. When Ailene dumps her on an unfamiliar road after an argument, Val decides to ask directions of the only person she sees, an old woman engaged in a garage sale. Val purchases a music box which the old woman claims has magical qualities and will grant Val one wish. Val wishes that that her sister would stop being so perfect.

When Ailene starts acting weird, breaks up with her boyfriend, stops talking to her friends, starts dating a “bad” boy, and cuts classes, Val is troubled. Val begins to fear she caused all this to happen by making her wish. She suffers a guilty conscience. How she goes about setting matters right makes for some unusual complications and surprises.

Excerpt (prior to editing):
Central New Jersey, 1985
My sister Ailene pulled the car to the side of the road, reached over and opened the door on the passenger side.
“Get out right now!” Ailene spoke through gritted teeth.
“No way!”
“Yes, way. You’re an obnoxious brat. I don’t have to put up with you, and I won’t for another minute.”
Maybe I had gone a tad overboard in the rude department today, but she’d deserved it. I had to stand and wait while she giggled and gossiped with her airhead friends by the lockers for what seemed like forever. I stood there being ignored and feeling like a leper. Then finally when she finally turned to me all she said was: “Come on. Hurry up.” Like she’d done me this great honor giving me a ride home.
Now she was all indignation. Well, I wasn’t going to stand for it. “I’m not getting out of the car,” I said.
Unfortunately Ailene’s taller and weighs more than I do. She shoved me out, hurled my backpack after me and drove off, burning rubber. She didn’t even look back. So there I stood at the side of a rural road with no idea exactly where I was.
Ailene had veered off the main highway when traffic stopped. There’d been an accident on the highway. No way of getting through any time soon. That pissed her off too. She’s not the most adaptable individual.
It was a warm afternoon. I didn’t mind walking, but the road was totally unfamiliar. I’d have to travel back in the direction of the highway. From there, I could find my way. Maybe my sister had done me a favor. Anything was better than being around her. She found me annoying but I felt the same way about her.
 As I walked, I fantasized.
Cheerleader shot dead at football game--mystery as to who pulled trigger. As a student of journalism I considered this possible headline. Were I to murder my sister, I wouldn't want to be caught.
Don’t judge me in haste. If you had a sister like Ailene, you'd probably hate her too. I’d like to say Ailene was nasty, selfish and spoiled, but it wouldn't be true. I have my share of faults. Lying isn't one of them. The truth? Ailene was polite, intelligent, beautiful, and even charming—when it suited her.
So why did I hate her? Maybe because she was everything I wished I could be but didn’t think I ever would be. Someone like Ailene, who was so much better than most people, you envied, idolized or hated her. It wasn’t easy living in the same home with perfection day after day.
A house came into my line of vision. It was an old Colonial with white clapboard shingles and black shutters that had paint peeling. There was an old woman sitting in a chair with all kinds of items set out on folding tables in cardboard boxes. I guess she was having a garage sale. I figured I’d stop and ask for directions back to the highway. She was kind of creepy looking dressed all in black. But she was the only person around. So I walked over to her. She stood up, smiling through crooked yellowed teeth.
“I’m kind of lost,” I said.
She nodded. “I can see that.” She had dark, penetrating eyes. She studied me in an eerie way that made my blood freeze.
“Can you direct me back to Route 516?”
“Certainly. But first why don’t you look at these things I have for sale. They are unique.”
“Sure,” I said, figuring to humor the old gal.
I began looking around. She had a lot of weird stuff, old crap that I had no interest in. But I figured if I offered to buy something I maybe could get the directions quicker. So I glanced at the stuff on one of the tables. A polished wooden box caught my eye.
“I see you like my music box. Actually, I have a bit of a collection.” She picked up the box and wound it up. “It plays Fur Elise by Beethoven.”
I listened and liked what I heard. “How much does it cost?”
“Whatever you can afford.”
I was surprised. I checked the pocket of my jeans. I had some allowance money with me but there wasn’t much. “I’ve only got four dollars.”
“Just the right amount,” she assured me. “There is just one thing about the box itself.” She hesitated. “You see, how should I put this, the box has a certain unusual quality. If I bestow ownership upon you, the music box will grant you a wish.”
I blinked and stared at her open-mouthed. Clearly the old lady was a few slices short of a loaf.
“Sure,” I said, trying to appear agreeable and humor her. “Great.”
“You don’t believe me, do you?” She gave me a knowing smile. Then she laughed, except I swear it sounded more like a cackle. The wind lifted her long, steel gray hair giving her an otherworldly look. “It’s all right. I don’t mind. But I think I should warn you. Once you open the box and make a wish out loud, you won’t be able to take it back. You get only one wish, you understand. So think carefully about it. Make certain you wish for something you truly want.”
You can also read more about the novel here:
Comments welcome!


Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

The fact that your YA books appeal to adults just proves what a prolific writer you are!

Good luck and God's blessings, Jacquie.

Berek said...

I'm 70 and read YA fiction almost exclusively. I agree that many YA books are better written than adult fiction. They also cover an amazing range of topics teens deal with and do so in ways that help them sort out their personal reality and feel less 'alone'. This is especially important for teens in rural or very conservative areas.

Steven M. Moore said...

I especially liked your line "I believe every author should try writing at least one meaningful coming-of-age book." I remembered enjoying Heinlein's Podakayne of Mars back in junior high (middle school for some) as well as Asimov's Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun (those weren't YA), so it occurred to me to write a YA sci-fi mystery The Secret Lab. Recently A. B. Carolan rewrote and reedited that to make a second edition and published the Secret of the Urns based on one of my YA short stories.
From the very beginning, I've said that The Secret Lab was for young adults and adults who are young at heart. Both these books contain coming-of-age topics.
Even my sci-fi novel Rogue Planet can be considered coming-of-age as the MC grows up fast in a Game-of-Thrones-like environment.
Yes, I don't respect genre boundaries very much, and I enjoyed writing YA stories. That's the fun of writing: the author can become a kid again or an old curmudgeon showing the young-uns a thing or two. Spinning a good yarn is rewarding.
r/Steve Moore

Patricia Gligor's Writers Forum said...

I have to admit that, as an adult, I've never been interested in reading YA novels. However, your post may have just changed my mind! And, your new book, "Witch Wish," has me intrigued.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Pam, Berek, Stephen and Patricia,

Thank you each for your kind comments and taking the time to read and offer your thoughts!

Unknown said...

I think the reason we enjoy young adult novels as adults is it’s still a break from life, usually involves an adventure and it’s hero/heroine is almost always pure of heart. Hunger Games, Twilight, etc... they help you to escape and wonder what if. I think, Witch Wish, sounds like the perfect getaway. Best WISHES for your book!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Thank you, Zari. As you say, YA novels are a break from reality.
Hunger Games and Twilight series are examples of YA fiction with strong appeal to adult readers as well as teens. I think that will be true of Witch Wish as well.

Saralyn said...

I stayed up until 2 a.m. to finish Witch Wish. The characters are multi-dimensional, and the voice of the narrator is so genuine, she will seem like the girl next door, or your favorite niece, or one of your most memorable students. Jacqueline Seewald is the real deal as a YA author.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Sounds like a good story with paranormal elements. I prefer to read YA Fantasy and some YA SciFi. I prefer these set on other worlds so you don't have to deal with school, driving, and other realities of modern life.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


Thank you so much for your endorsement of Witch Wish! You are the first reader outside the editor and I greatly appreciate your positive review!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Nancy,

I think many readers feel as you do. I do like writing YA novels that have a paranormal twist like Witch Wish and The Devil and Danna Webster.

Susan Coryell said...

YA books can be a challenge to write due to the age and subject matter and the importance of "reaching" the target audience. Your YA books are theme-rich and thus of interest to adults as well as tweens and teens.
I enjoyed Witch Wish and will post a review soon.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Thank you, Susan. Your encouraging words mean much to me!

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Bonnie Tharp said...

I agree, Jacqui, many YA novels are totally awesome. I've read quite a few and enjoyed them all. When my grandsons were growing up and got interested in a book (The City of Ember, Harry Potter...) I would read it and we'd discuss the parts we liked and didn't like. It was great fun. I think your witch novel sounds great. The excerpt had me wanting more.

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