Essay Voice Youth

Essay Voice Youth-16
Because teens deserve more than just fiction to read for enjoyment. It is part of what makes YA literature what it is: a whole, with plenty of fiction and nonfiction choices that reach a vast swath of teen readers. Further, only 48% of today’s teens identify as “exclusively heterosexual.” Knowing this, I’m able to keep in perspective the power of books to reach readers from a wide array of backgrounds.Narrative voice is what propels my collections, but it’s not my voice. It’s the combined power of 30 writers and artists telling their stories, in their own words, in a variety of mediums, that gives rise to the collection’s voice. Teens are always at the forefront of my work, and their voices are what help craft the direction of the collection’s voice as it explores the intersections of diverse lived experiences.

Because teens deserve more than just fiction to read for enjoyment. It is part of what makes YA literature what it is: a whole, with plenty of fiction and nonfiction choices that reach a vast swath of teen readers. Further, only 48% of today’s teens identify as “exclusively heterosexual.” Knowing this, I’m able to keep in perspective the power of books to reach readers from a wide array of backgrounds.Narrative voice is what propels my collections, but it’s not my voice. It’s the combined power of 30 writers and artists telling their stories, in their own words, in a variety of mediums, that gives rise to the collection’s voice. Teens are always at the forefront of my work, and their voices are what help craft the direction of the collection’s voice as it explores the intersections of diverse lived experiences.

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Others write about being neurodivergent and navigating a world that overlooks those who think differently.

Still others take on alcoholism and recovery, confidence, plastic surgery addiction, and grappling with life after surviving a school shooting.

Each voice is raw and vulnerable, sharing some of the lowest of lows alongside some of the brightest glimmers of light.

It was my first anthology, Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World, which made me realize how sorely needed a frank discussion of mental health was for teen readers.

My new book takes an honest and open look at mental health. (Don’t) Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start the Conversation About Mental Health features the insights and experiences of life with a brain from a wide array of writers, athletes, artists, actors, and celebrities.

Some speak to living with illnesses like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder.Mental health is not only a health issue and a feminist issue, it’s an issue that today’s young people confront directly and yearn to talk about.They want to be seen, want to be heard, and want to be able to share the things they’re experiencing and can often feel they’re grappling with alone. I worked across a variety of libraries, each with their joys and challenges, and I made it my goal to serve the teens in each of those places with respect, dignity, and a sense of humor.Becoming Maria by Sonia Manzano is a memoir that offers up what it’s like to grow up Latina and become an iconic member of a much-beloved children’s television show.Dashka Slater gives teen readers an account of a true crime and a nuanced look at the juvenile justice system in her much-lauded The 57 Bus, and Congressman John Lewis recounts his extraordinary life in politics and civil rights work in the graphic nonfiction March series.It welcomes them to dig in and to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. These authors don’t assume their readership isn’t as intellectually capable as adult readers or that they need to brush over hard truths.Instead, they grab teen readers by the hand and walk alongside them through the dark and hard parts.This idea of meeting teenagers where they are and offering them the tools to ask questions, to seek more information, and to find themselves on the page is what drives me to write and edit essay collections on meaty, contentious topics that impact them every day.It’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly as I brainstorm the voices and perspectives I’d like to include.This is, of course, in part because YA has been so heavily marketed and sold to adult readers (myself included! YA nonfiction, still relegated to the margins of YA literature, maintains a reputation for being “school books.” But it’s here, right here, where YA nonfiction reaches those teen readers. They were dumbed-down versions of adult titles, rather than intellectually stimulating, curiosity-heightening reads.This has changed as more attention has been given to the desires teens have in their own reading, and today’s Young Reader Editions are utilizing established YA writers’ talent to craft these titles for young audiences in a way that encourages pleasure reading.

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