Keris Stainton, a UK YA writer, to do a guest post on how the YA genre differs across the pond. Keris Stainton is the author of Della Says: OMG! (like to my review) and the recently-published (but only in the UK) Jessie <3 NYC. As someone who hasn't read a ton of fiction hailing from the UK, I was interested to see what Stainton had to say about the genre.
When Jordyn asked me to write about UK YA and how it differs from US YA I thought "piece of cake". And then sat down to write it and found myself a bit flummoxed.
Obviously there's the language issue - Jordyn found the language in my first novel, Della Says: OMG! "fancy" which made me laugh because it's not fancy at all - it's just the way I speak (with a bit of how I think teenagers might think thrown in). But I know what Jordyn means, because when I was growing up and reading a lot of Sweet Dreams books, I loved the language differences. I learned that "bangs" was a fringe, "barrettes" were hair combs and a "pocketbook" or "purse" was a handbag. (The less said about "fanny" the better.) In my second book, Jessie Hearts NYC, one of the main character is American and it was really important to me that I got his language right. (Twitter was very helpful in this regard.)
Language aside, one basic difference between US and UK YA is that you're unlikely to get a road trip in a UK YA novel. Teenagers can't start learning to drive until 17 and even once they do, they're unlikely to own their own car (the insurance is much too expensive). So my characters are more likely to spend time on buses or trains (or walking).
Also teens can drink younger in the UK too and approximately 25% of teen girls smoke regularly, so it was important to me to show this in the book. Jordyn asked me about Maddy's smoking in the book - Maddy likes to think of herself as a bit of a rebel, pushing the boundaries, so it seemed reasonable to me that she would smoke.
Jordyn also asked me about Della's parents' relaxed attitude to sex. I specifically wanted the book to be sex-positive. I didn't have that term in mind when I was writing it, but the wonderful YA author Susie Day called it that post-publication and I loved it so I've been using it ever since. My original idea for the book was to show three "firsts" from three different points of view: first love, first sex and first heartbreak. I then ended up focussing on just one point of view - Della's - and finding that her first love inevitably led to first sex. And I wanted it to be a good experience for Della. We hear so much about how horrifying teen sex is and how it leads to STDs and pregnancy and ruined lives and, yes, sometimes it does, but not every time. Sometimes it's just... nice. I didn't want Della to angst about it or have to hide it from her parents - I wanted it to be all about her (and Dan) and so I knew her parents would have to be slightly unusual, which is why they're younger and had a more arty, bohemian lifestyle and career. I figured someone who'd been a model in the eighties would have a more relaxed attitude to sex!
When I was desperately casting around for ideas for this post, I was directed to an article that suggested that American teens are more innocent than British teens. I don't know enough American teenagers to know if that's true (and if it is then things have changed since I was a teen - when some distant American cousins came over to visit in the 80s, they were much cooler and more worldly than me and my sister). Perhaps American publishers and parents would prefer to believe that they're more innocent? Whereas in the UK we like to think we're reflecting the reality of teen life? I have no idea, to be honest. But this, for me, is one of the joys of reading and writing YA: how people the same age may life differently but often have many of the same - or at least similar - problems. I really hope that comes across in my books.
Keris Stainton can be found on her blog and Twitter.