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Young Adult Mysteries

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 28, 2015

This panel at Bouchercon was titled “Importance of Book Clubs and Young Adult Literacy.” Speakers included Destiny Geddis, Matthew McGrath, B.K. Stevens, and Kaley Whittle, with Tina Whittle moderating.

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Disclaimer: These notes are based on my interpretation and any errors are mine.

· This panel included YA readers. They do reviews and have a book club at their charter school. Here is what they wish writers and editors knew about YA.

· YA mysteries have a teenage sleuth. The crime doesn’t have to be a murder. These stories often include elements of self-discovery and current issues for teens.

· Panelists advised authors to talk to young people to see how they speak. TV teens are as accurate as CSI teams on TV. Know your audience. Do the research. Talk to young adults to see what they do and what their friends do. “We don’t use certain words that have become antiques. We talk differently.” They also use different languages between texting, e-mail, talking in person to friends and to adults.

· Not all teen protagonists need a tragic backstory. They don’t have to be misunderstood. They don’t have to be loners, either. There’s lots of diversity in high school.

· Adults are not always evil, mean, unlikable, or uncaring. Avoid clichés like “I’m a teenager and I hate my parents.” Teens don’t rebel against authority in high school. They have to be respectful to teachers. Parents don’t always have to be divorced or dead. Nor does the family dog have to die. Most parents love their kids and try to be good parents and sometimes make mistakes.

· Don’t force the romantic elements. Have your characters be strong on their own, and then they can fall in love. You don’t need a lot of angst. The romance doesn’t always mean boy/girl, or white guy/white girl. Platonic relationships work too. Friendships are also desirable. The romance can lead to character growth when the protagonist has to make a choice.

· Don’t kill off a pet just to elicit an emotional response. Make the emotion natural and realistic to a character who’s connected to readers. Don’t throw in a baby either for the emotional response. Look at http://doesthedogdie.com for a guide to movies.

· Create a diverse cast of characters.

· Treat YA mysteries as seriously as adult mysteries. Readers should have access to clues, and the protagonist should solve the mystery on her own. “We figure things out really quickly and we want surprises. Don’t dumb down the mystery. Give us challenges. Develop the villains as fully as other characters.” Avoid dialogue such as “as you know…”

· Strong female characters do not act like stereotypical men. They can be feminine but strong. Males will read books with a female lead. Don’t follow gender clichés. Guys can be sensitive, and girls can like sports.

· Leave your moral soapbox at home. Subtlety is appreciated. Talk to the reader, not at the reader, otherwise it feels preachy.

· It’s okay to be both serious and funny.

YA writers or readers, what would you add?

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4 Responses to “Young Adult Mysteries”

  1. marissoule said

    Good information. Great that they had teens on the panel.

  2. Thanks for the report, Nancy. I’m glad they had a YA panel at Bouchercon. Mysteries for the kids and the YA crowd are some of the most enjoyable out there.

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