A.S. King is a writer of staggering talent. Her books and characters are as diverse as they are complex and stunningly beautiful. I’ve been fangirling over A.S. King on Twitter for… ahem… an embarrassingly long time. When I had the chance to meet her in person, she looked at me and said, “Oh! You’re Lindsay from Twitter! I love you!”
Of course, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to interview her for a new series celebrating the value of YA literature.
A.S. King didn’t become a published author until nearly 15 years after she began writing novels. Her first published book, The Dust of 100 Dogs, tells to story of a contemporary American teenager who, in a previous life, was a famed pirate, cursed to live 100 lives as a dog before she could return to a human body. King then published Please Ignore Vera Dietz, a novel which garnered a Michael L. Printz Honor among many other accolades and awards. Remaining true to her style of writing memorable, charming, flawed and relatable characters, King published Everybody Sees the Ants in 2011, the story of an unlucky boy named Lucky who is the victim of cruel bullying, and who escapes his world by disappearing into daydreams of a war-torn Laos. Ask the Passengers followed in 2012, introducing the world to Astrid Jones, a lesbian from a small town who sends waves of love up to passing airplane passengers. Her most recently published Reality Boy examines the consequences of a life lived publicly through Gerald Faust, a teenage boy whose childhood was unflatteringly portrayed in a hit reality TV show.
With a body of work as diverse as King’s, she was a natural choice for a conversation on the importance of YA.
“I don’t understand resistance to YA books,” admitted King. “Teens don’t either.”
King discussed an Ellen Hopkins book with a group of teens in Arizona, who all looked at her with astonishment when she told them the book had been banned.
“They simply didn’t understand how anything in Ellen’s books would be seen as secret, bad, or inappropriate. They’d already heard of all that stuff before.”
King believes it is counter-intuitive to ban books based on “inappropriate”content.
“Teens are savvy and they are paying attention. Isn’t that what we want? Teens who pay attention? I know every teacher wants this.”
So if teens are already paying attention to the world around them—which is full of “inappropriate”content—then why would adults want to ban the books that help teens process and experience the world?
“I think YA books bring issues to light that help readers grasp real life in a healthy and normal way. In classrooms, I think YA lit can go a long way to help readers connect with characters who are going through the same things they are,” said King. “Teachers and librarians know that readers of all ages and all backgrounds need books that light their paths and push them to be the best humans they can be. Why anyone would want to exclude teens from this type of connection to literature is beyond me. I stand with any teacher who has to explain this to an out-of-touch school board.”
These are words that teachers like Borah Coburn, creator of the blog Why I Need YA Lit, will be thrilled to hear. It is no surprise we need YA lit. After all, King believes that YA is universally appealing because being a teenager is a universal experience.
“I don’t see a huge amount of difference between ages. My six-year-old says amazing stuff. My mentor was in his 80’s when I was in my 20’s and he never treated me any differently than people his own age. I believe connection is possible between generations and emotional intelligence isn’t limited to people over eighteen. That is why I enjoy writing young adult novels. Connection.”
Connection goes beyond a reader and her book in the YA world. The community around YA lit is wildly active. Fan bases such as John Green’s Nerdfighters raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity each year. YA author Laurie Halse Anderson passionately promotes RAINN, raising awareness for the issue of sexual abuse not only through her activism, but through her books, including the popular (and popularly-banned) Speak. Movements like #ChooseKind, the anti-bullying campaign inspired by R.J. Palacio’s bestselling middle grade novel Wonder, spread like wildfire among the ranks of YA readers who are active online. With such powerful and positive energy around YA literature, what parent, teacher, or school board wouldn’t want to encourage teens to read as much YA as possible?
A.S. King stands behind teachers and librarians fighting for YA. “First, I’d say thank you. A huge thank you. Like: THANK YOU.”
And to those who say YA isn’t valuable or “real” literature:
“I don’t argue with people who make ridiculous claims,” said King. “I like open minds. I avoid closed minds as much as I avoid asparagus.”