The first novel written for a young adult audience on record is the Swiss Family Robinson, written in 1812 by Jonathan David Wyss. This charming novel documents the adventures of a family stranded on an island, fight pirates, and exploration of the island. This genre had been slowing climbing its way up the genre ladder for popularity among readers with some major hits being the recent Harry Potter series and the Hunger Games trilogy. This genre covers several topics, in several different subgenres, but they all have one element in common, a main character is growing up.
This concept of the “bildungsroman” or coming of age story has graced the pens of famous writers such as William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain, and yet, young adult books still get flack for being too “mainstream” or shallow. As a writer of young adult, I find that I may have some bias, however, as a scholar of creative writing, I find that even a short story filled with relationships, fairies, and murder to have a spark of depth that truly brings the idea of “growing up” to the next level.
Within my short story, I have two characters, Cora and Bryce, whose story is told during two nightmarish nights. Cora and Bryce begin as scared little kids who grow into adults in a harsh world. “His expression changes into something darker. He would kill me, without hesitation. Kindness was a thing for children. I was never allowed to be weak; showing feelings in front of the Court was deadly”(Like 6). As a coming of age story, the evolution of Cora’s relationship towards Bryce is a vital part of the story.
The element of relationship is a major deal in the young adult genre. From friendship to romance, the concept of relationships is heavily drawn upon in young adult stories. It is in this discussion of relationships that we see the possibility of growth and change among the characters as children, and now as young adults. The purpose of young adult fiction is to create an entertaining story, filled with young characters that the audience can connect with, and for many young adults, there is nothing as entertaining and provides an emotional connection that with relationships.
Two series I mentioned earlier, Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, are driven by the connection of relationships. “But know this; the ones that love us never really leave us. And you can always find them in here”(Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). Potter’s entire purpose for fight the Dark Lord is to save his friends. Every time Potter looses a comrade, readers ache with him. The series gives room for Potter to grow with those around him, and very much like Cora and Bryce, those relationships change.
In the Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen’s rise to revolution begins with an act of sacrifice for her sister. This moves the entire story from an arena of children killing children, to a journey of love and sacrifice. Following this blueprint, young adult stories are not made to simply us emotion as a cheap trick to draw in readers, but to give another level of depth within the story altogether. The young adult story had certain expectations attached from the types of elements of the stories to the characters.
Genres are formed by conventions that change over time as new genres are invented and the use of old ones are discontinued. Often, works fit into multiple genres by way of borrowing and recombining these conventions” (Cram101). One of these genres, fantasy has expectations and conventions, such as fairies, and magic. Without these elements, the needs of the genre are not met, but that doesn’t mean every in the story is the same. While both the J. M.
Barrie’s famous Peter Pan stories and William Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare both contain fairies, however, these fairies are vastly different, and have significantly varying roles. Understandably so, it is not that genres are ground in these elements, but in order to reach their audience, they must take these genre elements into serious consideration, and be purposeful in changes to genre norms. In this short story, Cora is a nymph, which according to Merriam Webster “is a spirit in the shape of a young woman who lives in mountains, forests, meadows, and water”.
Bryce is forcibly turned into a version of a “changeling”, which according to Merriam Webster “a child secretly exchanged for another, usually in infancy”, however, in this case, a changeling can also be created if a child eats fruit of the fey(fairy) world. The magical world of the story (or glamour in this case) is mysterious, in which these characters live, can be seen in a few glimpses of the story. “I wouldn’t open the suitcase for all the world, not wishing to see the body without the layers of glamour he used to cover himself from the magic he gained for himself, and the Court to remain immortal”(Like 2).
This mixture of modern world and the magical world is a common motif in fantasy stories today, and allows themes of fantasy and reality to collide into a mixture of emotions, complications, and possibly a murder. In short stories, conflict comes early within this story. In the case of the short story, “Find Me”, the conflict comes into the story in the very beginning as the two characters bury a body in secret. The continual flashbacks within the story continue to give background information, developing the plot as well as the characters.
This allows for the audience to receive context for the events and characters in the short story. Within “Find Me”, and other young adult stories, there is the need to not only give background, but also introduce the conflict in the way there is both compelling and allows for the story to move towards an appealing conclusion. The idea of gradual conflict rising to a sudden conclusion is a classic motif of short stories, and so it is with the story, “Find Me”. Not unlike the longer works of Harry Potter and Hunger Games, short stories use motifs to build conflict. In the Hunger
Games, Suzanne Collins uses incidents a poisonous bug sting to create the setting for a flash back about her father’s death, and her mother’s depression that almost makes the family starve to death. This gives the story a chance to give background information about the main character, while also creating the tension that builds into the next scene. Just like in the Hunger Games, the story “Find Me” uses flash backs in order to build background and conflict. In conclusion, the idea of growing up is scary and complicated without adding fairies, magic, and murder to the mix.
Through these events, it is not solely the idea of breaking down the elements that make a story good, but the right combination of these elements in order to tell the compelling story that connects to the audience in an emotional level. In young adult fiction, it is the story about a young adult character growing up in all kinds of circumstances. As the writer Ben Okri once said, “Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger. ” Through a story, one can reflect upon ones own life, whether it is about the choices one makes, or just to escape into a really good story.