I’m back, talking with awesome and multitalented Nora Carpenter about young adult fiction. And you’re here too. That’s awesome as well. If you haven’t checked out the first part of the interview, you can click here and do so. Nora’s young adult novel is A Beautiful Kind of Crazy. Are we ready? Then, let’s go!
El Space: In an article at WriteOnCon, Kelly Jensen mentioned three elements to a good realistic young adult novel: world building, authentic characters, and dialogue. In fact she stated:
World-building is not solely about where a book is set, though. It also means developing a dynamic and fluid world within your story.
Would you agree about the necessity of the three elements? How did you go about “developing a dynamic and fluid world” in your book?
Nora: I 100% agree that a character’s “world” encompasses not just his outer environment, but also his inner world—in other words, the people with whom he comes into contact, his relationships with those people, how those people’s worldviews are a result of their environment, and how they impact the protagonist, etc.
Once we get past setting—okay, we’re in a boarding school . . . or at a homeless shelter . . . or in a large city—those places have to feel real. Ultimately, it’s the characters that populate those places that make the worlds come alive. They have to talk, think, and act like people who would be in those settings in real life. And out-of-place characters have to be explained.
I’m from a small, rural town. Like, really small and really rural. I graduated with 60 kids, and we drove an hour across windy roads to get to the mall. Kids from other schools in West Virginia made fun of us for being hillbillies! Anyway, I’ve always been interested in how people act and why, and I have very clear memories of high school. My parents still live where I grew up. So, in some ways I relied a lot on experience and memory in building Cay’s inner world. Her town is peppered with people of different mindsets—a lot of them conservative, but not all, because a small town where everyone is über conservative is not realistic, either. But they all have explanations for why they think/act they way they do. And those are the people who are influencing Cay, which helps explain what’s going on in her head.
I love Jensen’s point about real people not being consistent. It’s so true. Of course, you don’t want a character being wildly inconsistent, but small inconsistencies reflect real life and make characters come alive. In A Beautiful Kind of Crazy for example, Cay’s dad cares a lot about his kids, and Cay respects him a lot. But he doesn’t have the best relationship with Cay’s sister, Skye, because their personalities are so different. Like a real person, he’s not intrinsically bad, but he sometimes behaves in ways that bother Cay and so cause tension.
Pretty much every character in the book is flawed in some way. I love flawed characters, because everyone—EVERYONE—in real life has flaws. And I am really interested in the idea of trying to be a “decent person,” while at the same time discovering that “decency” is often subjective and even fluid. And what happens when you think you’re a pretty good person, but then you do something shameful, or something you think might be shameful, and does it matter if no one knows it was you? And what if it’s something that an apology won’t fix? I think most people struggle with these questions at some point, and they are ideas that A Beautiful Kind of Crazy explores.
El Space: Some writers have talked about the lack of contemporary realistic YA fiction. In an article at Entertainment Weekly.com about the movie adaptation of Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume, writer Hillary Busis stated
I realized something else about her [the main character of Tiger Eyes] essential ordinariness: In a modern YA landscape glutted with fantastical dystopias, supernatural romances, brand-name-soaked glamoramas, and hyperbolic tragedy, what makes this heroine remarkable is the fact that she’s not very remarkable at all.
Busis goes on to state:
Trends, of course, are cyclical. I have no doubt that someday soon, the tides could change, ushering in a new wave of regular kid lit that replaces the Katnisses and Trises with characters who are less flashy but no less fascinating.
A Publishing Perspectives article by Dennis Abrams quoted from the Busis article. Yet many commenters took issue with the pronouncement of a lack of “regular kid lit.” How would you respond?
Nora: There is definitely great realistic fiction out there, but usually it’s the life-or-death fantasy stories like The Hunger Games that are in the public consciousness because of big movie deals. And let’s face it: stories like that are exciting. They are fast-paced, provide a great escape from a stressful world, and, because of the pace, can be emotionally exhilarating. I love a good fantasy novel with complex, interesting characters to go along with the exciting plot. I can tear through those things! I think young readers especially like stories like that because they imagine themselves as the protagonists. Middle and high school can be tough, so who doesn’t want to fantasize about what it would be like to save the world?
I’m not going to say that one genre is more important than the other, because I think we need all types of books because there are all types of readers. But realistic fiction is extremely important, not only to provide relatable characters in situations similar to readers’, but also to provide relatable characters in very different situations. Entering into a world of poverty or wealth or depression or anything different from their own circumstance can be enlightening and encouraging for young readers. Similarly, recognizing that characters have problems similar to theirs—and reading about how characters deal with them, or don’t—can be so healing for kids.
At the end of the day, no matter what the genre, I think a middle grade or young adult book is successful if it connects with a reader, if it makes her think without offering answers or preaching, and if it provides even a glimmer of hope.
Thanks, Nora, for hanging out on the blog yesterday and today!
Got questions for Nora? You know what to do. . . . While you ponder what questions to ask, I’ll leave you with this question from LOL Cats:
Book covers from Goodreads. Lego people photos from fanpop.com and a-jenterprises.com.