Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks has the rather ambitious subtitle “Everything You Need to Know, from Crafting the Idea to Getting Published”. For the most part, the book lives up to its promise. Regina Brooks covers all the essentials of writing great books for young adults, such as plot, character, setting and dialogue. I found the explanation of the differences between plot (“a chain of events where each event has a cause”) and story (“the sequence of events as the reader imagines them to have taken place”) particularly helpful, as this is an area which is not always well explained.
Writing Great Books for Young Adults is the perfect primer for an inexperienced writer looking to write their first young adult (YA) book. Its breadth means that there is also plenty for the more experienced writer. For example, there is an intriguing precis of the 36 dramatic situations, and some thought-provoking exercises on getting into the mindset of a teenager. The time spent on basic writing techniques common to all fiction writing (use of all the senses in descriptions, choice of a point of view, etc.) means that sometimes the specifics of writing for young adults are not covered in as much depth as might be useful for the experienced writer moving into the YA market. Although these topics were included, I would have liked to see more depth to the sections about balancing realism and fantasy, tackling difficult subjects, and how to keep up to date with YA trends.
I enjoyed the quotes from YA writers and publishers, giving an insight into the current “state of the market”, and the stories from the author’s experience. I came away from the book with a long wish list of YA fiction to study. As a top US agent for YA fiction, Brooks has a wealth of knowledge of YA writing and publishing, but also a perspective which occasionally results in some surprising omissions when it comes to the section on breaking into the industry. In general, the book focuses on a particular path: submitting to an agent who in turn sells the book to a traditional publisher. Brooks largely ignores the many other options offered by developments such as small presses, e-book publishing and self-publishing. Writing Great Books for Young Adults is also highly US-centric, and while the techniques of writing a great book do not vary according to nationality, the specifics of the market covered in the final chapters often do.
If this book were titled Writing The Great American YA Novel, it would have entirely fulfilled its promise. Despite its limitations from my point of view as a UK-based author, Writing Great Books for Young Adults is a worthwhile reference for the YA author anywhere in the world.
Disclosure: This book was received courtesy of SourceBooks for review purposes.