One of the reasons I began blogging was because in the past I had reviewed teenage fiction for Hodder so that I could say whether I thought the books would be suitable for KS3 class readers. Since then I have found there to be some fantastic Young Adult (YA) fiction which is frequently overlooked.
Today I’m delighted to welcome Christina Hoag to Linda’s Book Bag. Christina’s Girl on the Brink is a YA novel and she’s telling us all about why YA fiction is important.
Girl on the Brink is available for purchase here.
Girl on the Brink
Sometimes the one you love isn’t the one you’re meant to be with.
The Importance of YA Fiction
A Guest Post by Christina Hoag
Think back to when you were a teenager. Did you like being told what to do? That you were making a mistake? Probably not, and frankly most of us don’t like that as adults, either. That’s why couching life lessons as stories is a valuable way to send messages or impart knowledge, especially to adolescents who tend to think they’ve got life sewn up by the age of sixteen.
I’m sure parents who are reading this will be well familiar with the eye-roll, the shrug, the responses of “whatever” or “are you done yet?” when they’ve tried to deliver sermons on life lessons to their teen kids, which we regard as an integral part of parenting. Somehow we get the feeling that our valuable advice simply rolls off teenagers like oily suntan lotion and because we want the best for our children, we fear for them.
Unfortunately, the best way to learn from our mistakes in life is by actually making them. We sure don’t forget those lessons quickly. But we can also learn life lessons through the power of story. Stories allow us to vicariously experience the mistakes of others and learn what happens to characters without actually having to go through the painful consequences ourselves.
That’s why I wrote Girl on the Brink, a novel that chronicles the tale of an abusive relationship that a 17-year-old protagonist falls into, and why I aimed the novel specifically at teenage girls instead of writing a book for adults. It was inspired by something that happened to me, and I felt strongly that if more girls were forewarned about the red flags of an abusive boyfriend at the start of their dating lives, they might be able to avoid such relationships not just in adolescence but also in womanhood, or at least get away from these men sooner, before the stakes intensify.
The challenge, of course, in writing a book with a strong social message is making it too heavy-handed and didactic. Readers, especially teens, aren’t going to pick up a book that’s going to preach at them. They have to be so absorbed in the plot and characters that they don’t really notice the message. The theme has to be woven into the story so it becomes secondary, subliminal, and it has to. People read fiction largely for entertainment, not for lectures.
As I was writing Girl on the Brink, I had to keep this uppermost in my mind, and it took a while. I had to keep revising and revising, sometimes drastically, until it finally twigged. I had to let go of the message and concentrate on unfolding the story, because the message was inherent in the plot points and character actions. My job was simply to make the story as suspenseful and “un-put-down-able” as I could.
When Girl on the Brink was finally published last August, I didn’t know how it would be received. It had been a hard sell, rejected by agents and editors all over the place. No one, it seemed, was much interested in a contemporary realistic tale of a bad romance. Much of YA fiction tends to land more on the frothy, unrealistic side (falling in love with a werewolf, anyone?). I at last found an editor at a small U.S. publisher (Fire & Ice YA) who was into the book—and its message. At her suggestion, we put a page of resources at the end of the book.
Luckily, Girl on the Brink was well received from the get-go. When Kirkus Reviews said the book imparted a lesson without seeming preachy, I knew I must’ve hit the right balance. That was underscored when Suspense Magazine named it on its Best of 2016 YA list. While compliments are always nice for an author to hear, ultimately it meant that I stood in good stead of getting my message about dating violence to readers. If Girl on the Brink helps just one girl avoid or get out of an abusive relationship, I will have fulfilled my goal.
About Christina Hoag
Christina Hoag is a former journalist for the Miami Herald and Associated Press who’s been threatened by a murderer, had her laptop searched by Colombian guerrillas and phone tapped in Venezuela, hidden under a car to evade Guatemalan soldiers, posed as a nun to get inside a Caracas jail, interviewed gang members, bank robbers, thieves and thugs in prisons, shantytowns and slums, not to forget billionaires and presidents, some of whom fall into the previous categories. Kirkus Reviews praised Christina as a “talented writer” with a “well crafted debut” in Skin of Tattoos (Martin Brown Publishing, 2016), a gangland thriller. Her YA thriller Girl on the Brink (Fire and Ice, 2016) was named to Suspense Magazine’s Best of 2016 YA list. She also writes nonfiction, co-authoring Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence (Turner Publishing, 2014), a groundbreaking book on violence intervention used in several universities. Christina makes her home in California, USA.