Debut author Melody Maysonet remembers what it is like to be unhappy. In her new book, A Work of Art, the shy, artistic protagonist, Tera, is forced to face the realities of her past despite years of hiding the truth—even from herself. Themes of self-deception and self-discovery are common in YA, of course, but for Maysonet, they’re also personal.
“My teenage years were, by far, the hardest years of my life,” said Maysonet. “I spent way too much time wishing I could be someone else, not realizing that my problems at home and school were shared by countless others.”
The darker years of her adolescence is one of the main reasons Maysonet loves and writes YA today.
“As a YA writer, I take pride in writing stories that deal with real teen problems — issues like insecurity, popularity, drug use, and abusive or neglectful parents — to let teens know they’re not alone and to maybe help them find their way.”
Maysonet knows she isn’t alone in the effort to write compelling, relatable fiction for teens. She also isn’t alone in her belief that YA books are powerful and relevant, and deserve the respect shown other genres.
“YA lit stretches across every genre, including historical and literary fiction, so it’s hard to understand how anyone can claim that YA books don’t belong in the classroom,” she said.
A Work of Art deals with difficult, gritty themes, including child sexual abuse. Some of her favorite YA books wrestle with equally difficult themes, and even though many hot-topic YA books are frequently challenged or banned, Maysonet asserts that YA books belong in classrooms for a variety of reasons.
“My favorite YA book of all time — Crank by Ellen Hopkins — is written in verse and is so engagingly poetic that it seems a perfect way to help students appreciate the beauty and flow of language. The Octavian Nothing books by M.T. Anderson could easily complement a discussion on slavery and racism in the United States, just as Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein would complement a study of World War II and the shifting role of women.”
Maysonet says that if her debut was challenged or banned, she’d take it as a compliment.
“That’s not to say I advocate banning books, but books that are deemed inappropriate or somehow harmful to the mainstream way of thought are often important books because they get people thinking and talking about issues that might otherwise get ignored,” said Maysonet.
Maysonet believes the darker issues that are often addressed in YA can be a powerful impetus for change. She admires the many YA authors who are using their platforms to promote positivity in the world, such as Laurie Halse Anderson’s work to raise awareness about sexual violence and Jay Asher’s 50 States Against Bullying tour. Asher’s anti-bullying campaign is taking him to at least one school in every state to talk to kids about issues such as bullying and suicide.
“That, to me, is a beautiful example of how YA literature brings about positive change in the real world,” Maysonet said.
If ever given the opportunity, Maysonet says she’d “jump at the chance” to follow in the footsteps of so many YA authors who are making a difference in the lives of teens—both through their books, and through the causes they champion.