Why is it important to have good and challenging fiction for teens? by Gillian Philip

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Why is it important to have good and challenging fiction for teens?

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Summary: Gillian Philip is one of Bookbag's favourite authors for teens. She can write in any genre and even blends them together sometimes. And she's always real, even when she's writing fantasy. Her latest book, The Opposite of Amber is a chilling thriller that blends with a realistic story of relationship breakdown and social issues. If anyone can tell us why teens need books to challenge them, it's Gillian. So we thank her for passing by to give us her view - and promise you she is nothing like as gnarled as Charlie Sheen!
Date: 13 April 2011

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External links: Author's website



Gillian Philip is one of Bookbag's favourite authors for teens. She can write in any genre and even blends them together sometimes. And she's always real, even when she's writing fantasy. Her latest book, The Opposite of Amber is a chilling thriller that blends with a realistic story of relationship breakdown and social issues. If anyone can tell us why teens need books to challenge them, it's Gillian. So we thank her for passing by to give us her view - and promise you she is nothing like as gnarled as Charlie Sheen!


Why is it important to have good and challenging fiction for teens?

Really, I have no authority to comment on this. I’m as old as the hills – as old and gnarled as Charlie Sheen – and in my day there wasn’t such a thing as Fiction for Teens.

I don’t know what my peers read in those days of the seventies and eighties; I only know what I moved on to when I finally tired of the Silver Brumby and Jill Enjoys Her Ponies. There was a certain amount of adult fiction I read because it was prescribed by the curriculum, and very wonderful a lot of it was, though I was put off Dickens for life. But teen fiction? As a body of work, it didn’t exist, though there were occasional beauties like Summer Of My German Soldier; and I seem to remember thinking of The Red Pony as a teen book, though it’s so long since I’ve read it, I’m not sure if I was right (and as with so many other favourites, I’m afraid to revisit it). There was some wonderful adult science fiction, but fantasy seemed weighed down by the legacy of Tolkien; what wouldn’t I have given in those days for a bit of Philip Pullman?

I’m not saying I’d go back to being a teenager – oh, FAR too much like hard work, and far too much angst – but I do wish I could turn back the clock to create a YA fiction market like the one of today. Our equivalent for Twilight or Hush, Hush was, I suppose, Marvel comics (and they were no bad thing): teenagers with strange powers (and what’s more, strangely ageless... how old is Spider Man now?); hectic pace; and danger, romance, and audacity beyond the protagonists’ years. I worshipped the X-Men, and I’d have loved to follow their adventures in a well-constructed, beautifully written novel as well as watching them throw one-liners around the illustrated page.

But there’s so much more to teen fiction than Twilight & Co (let me get away with a vast understatement here). I came to teen fiction through one of those ‘lightbulb’ moments: searching for books for my own (young) children, I was distracted by what was available in the teen section. It was love at first sight, and I’ve never fallen out of that love: so much variety, so much pace, so much quality! Nowhere on the adult shelves can you find such a concentration of excellent, suspenseful writing in such a broad spectrum of genres. Crime, chicklit, fantasy, dystopian sci-fi, gritty urban politics? You name it, and you can have it; and not only within reason.

And that’s why I think the new and vibrant teen fiction is so invaluable. I could talk for hours – and often have – about how it can reflect the lives of teenagers even if it’s set in a parallel reality or a dystopian hell. I could wax lyrical about the magic of fiction, and how we all learn to deal with reality through the prism of fiction – even when the subject matter is already our day-to-day reality.

All of that’s true, but all fiction can do the same. The beauty of today’s teen fiction is that it fills that need, beautifully, in the gap between Harry Potter and Sebastian Faulks; it can persuade someone to keep faith with books at the very time it’s tempting to abandon them.

And frankly, it’s too good to be exclusive. The protagonists may be most often teenagers, but the best of teen fiction can be read and loved by anyone. If you happen to be over 20... don’t miss out, will you?

The Opposite of Amber blog tour

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Eleanor Patrick said:

Totally agree with Gillian. The YA category should have existed long ago to bridge a gap in suitable books. The stories are better than most adult books these days anyway. They offer young people such a wide scope of alternative possibilities to think about - putting into words what they may have had at the back of their mind but not verbalised even to themselves. We all need to live a second or third life vicariously. And imagination, fully developed, is at the basis of all successful living, creativity, invention, fulfilling social relationships and sheer wonder at life and death. Many of the teens I work with therapeutically do not read. This started long before they were YA and they are now missing out on a wonderful mountain of YA books, which is sad. Perhaps we need more YA books couched in easier language but with issues that YA want to read about. I think they call it Hi-Lo? Hi interest, lower reading age? Just reading Amber now, btw! Great post.

Eleanor

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