When Stephen King came up with his first great idea, his debut novel Carrie, he paved the way for many of us YA authors through his realization that nothing fits supernatural phenomena quite like adolescence. Everything changes so rapidly in our teen years, from our bodies to our emotions, who we thought we were to who we find ourselves becoming. Everything in our world intensifies and looms larger.
It can feel more than a little dubious to imagine 9-to-5 adults suddenly stumbling upon magical powers. But a teenager who is still discovering him or herself, who is experiencing so many firsts? Of course they could turn out to be a wizard, or a telekinetic, or a half-Angel, or whatever your fancy. OK, maybe it’s not the most likely scenario — but if you’re an avid reader, it is definitely within the realm of possibility. Thus, from Stephen King’s influence to J.K. Rowling’s literary sorcery, Stephenie Meyer’s swoony supernatural romance to Cassandra Clare’s mythical underworld, paranormal YA is positively exploding. The best examples of this are the stuffed bookstore shelves labeled “Teen Paranormal Romance” and “Teen Fantasy.” The audience clearly adores their otherworldly heroes and heroines, and I think the key ingredient is wish-fulfillment.
When I set out to write my own debut YA novel, Timeless (proudly labeled a Teen Paranormal Romance), I wrote about my greatest daydream since I was a little girl: the ability to time-travel. This is a concept that I had fantasized about since my mom took me to Europe when I was 7 years old, and I wandered the medieval churches and historic homes wondering, “What if I could go back?” As I wrote my protagonist’s story, I experienced a dream that I would never be able to fulfill in real life. (Well, at least until Stephen Hawking or someone figures out exactly how to make time-travel happen.) This is what resonates with readers, whether a story is about jumping in and out of time, or about a seemingly-normal person discovering their fantastical powers: the vicarious experience of something we secretly always wanted, but can never truly have.
This week, I’ll be congregating with more than 90 (!) YA authors for the New York City Teen Author Festival, organized by brilliant author and Scholastic publisher, David Levithan. We’ll be discussing this subject in more detail at panels throughout the week, and there will be many fun activities for writers and readers alike. Please join us!
This article was originally published by The Huffington Post (now HuffPost): The Phenomenon of Paranormal YA.