Last weekend at the Writer’s Guild of Alberta’s AGM and Gala I had the privilege of presenting the R. Ross Annett Award for Children’s Literature to Cathy Ostlere for her novel, Karma. Like Pamela Porter’s GG 2005 winner, The Crazy Man, Karma is written in blank verse. But while both books could be classified as coming-of-age, if we have a burning need to classify, they’re vastly different. Crazy Man is set exclusively in the Canadian prairie, while Karma begins there, then quickly moves to India at the time of Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. Crazy man is written in stark, spare terms. Karma is sensual and violent, roller coastering readers through a dark and turbulent period of Indian history.
All this makes me wonder about the characteristics of this genre, called alternatively children’s literature and YA. Last year I moderated a panel made up of authors Hazel Hutchins, Judith Graves and Glen Huser. Interesting points came out of that discussion. YA novels, the panel found, often deal with complicated, dark subject matter in authentic (hopefully) first-person voices. YA endings are optimistic or transcendent.
When I first told students of mine at Concordia College I was writing a YA book, one of them said, “And I’ll bet everything will come out okay in the end.” “Uh huh,” I said. And so far it’s been true. I’ve written sadder but wiser endings. And I’ve written in first-person. So far. I’ve looked at depression, bullying, loss, anxiety. While not paranormal, there’s darkness there. So I’m solidly in there as a YA author, according to last year’s panel. So far. It’s an interesting discussion though. And an important one to keep returning to.