Friday, March 9, 2012

YA Historical Fiction: An Opinion

There isn’t enough new YA historical fiction. I was told, at a recent writing conference, that in general, the only YA historical fiction novels being sold today are earlier classics.

Of course this is an exaggeration. But sadly, not much of one.

I’d like to make an argument for more YA HF.

Look at the books that are selling.

Dystopian fiction. On topics like war, plague, social class conflict.

Hello? All this exists in historical fiction.

I recently read the novel How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. It reminded very much of a paperback book I read in middle school about two teens knocking around London during the Blitz.

At the Whidbey Island Writers Conference this past week, one of the writers participating in my Create Your Own Character class invented a character who had lost his family during the Plague.

The rest of us weren’t certain whether it was set in the past or in the future.

I LOVE YA historical fiction.

I remember falling in love with Ann Rinaldi’s The Last Silk Dress. And Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s Mara, Daughter of the Nile. And Sally Watson’s Witch of the Glens. I read Johnny Tremain twice in a row in the seventh grade and yet again before the class test. I’ve read Margaret by Jane Claypool Miner at least seven times and Bargain Bride by Evelyn Sibley Lampman just as often. I read the entire Sunfire series back in high school (all thirty-two books). And quite a number of other teen paperback HF series as well.

YA historical fiction introduced me to the tragedies of the Johnstown Flood, the Great London Fire, and, of course, the chaos of Tudor-era England. Authors like Linda Crew introduced me to local history. And I set my travel itinerary of dreams based on my favorite novels. Places I would love to see: Egypt, Boston, The Great Glen.

History, I believe, is an even richer and more vibrant world than the greatest fantasy. Because there are always more layers. More relationships. And more ways to tell the story. More voices that have never been heard.

And teenagers! Teens were the adventurers of the past. The slaves, sailors, soldiers, and southern belles. Sacagawea was 16 during the Lewis & Clark Expedition! Lady Jane Gray was 17 when she was named queen. And executed. Clara Barton began teaching school at 17. And of course, hundreds of thousands of soldiers in many, many wars throughout history, have been teenagers.

So I’d just like to offer my thanks to the authors and publishers who are writing & printing new YA historical fiction.

People like . . .

Mary Hooper

Susanne Dunlap

And Ruth Tenzer Feldman

And to say that we, the YA audience, are definitely up to the challenge of reading more!