Lisa T. Bergren is the author of over thirty-five books; wife to Tim; mom to Olivia (15), Emma (12), and Jack (7); walker of Talley, their dog; occasional Bible study leader; dreamer; traveler; and daily disciple of Jesus. For more on her, go to www.LisaTawnBergren.com, www.TheWorldisCalling.com, @LisaTBergren (Twitter), and Lisa Tawn Bergren (Facebook) and River of Time Series (Facebook).
A New Era for YA Fiction—and Why I’m Writing It Too
For years, book sales languished behind video games sales for kids. But then came Harry Potter, and suddenly, a new generation caught fiction fever. Rowling’s world for Harry weaved together a magical tapestry of elements: an orphaned child with a tremendous destiny; a parallel world filled with fascinating characters; good versus evil. It was classic storytelling. And the books are lengthy, proving that kids still have the attention span required—if the story is good enough to capture their imaginations.
Next up? The Twilight saga. With my own reluctant reader in the house, I cast about, desperate to find something that would awaken the sleeping reader inside my teen. As a Christian, I was a little wary of the whole vampire concept, but I’d heard the stories were moral—and totally captivating—so I encouraged her to give it a try. After a few weeks of cajoling, begging, nagging for her to “just give it twenty pages,” Olivia was hooked. I was too. We went on to read the whole series, and ever since, Olivia has been an enthusiastic reader. I’ll forever be grateful to Stephanie Meyer for that.
Since I was interested in writing for that Twilight audience (and kids, like Olivia, who just couldn’t seem to get into a book), I tried to uncover what really worked for it. The elements I found were a Romeo and Juliet kind of romance—two young people destined for each other and yet kept apart by seemingly impossible obstacles; a Beauty and the Beast type of relationship—Bella tries to bring out the human or “soft” side of her loving vampire; the theme of sacrificial love; plus a heavy dose of danger and suspense.
Of late, the Hunger Games Trilogy has captured kids’ minds and hearts. Collins spins a dystopian vision for the future of America, in which our society has dissolved into thirteen different sectors. Reality TV has taken an ugly turn, and the annual big program showcases a pair of teens from each of the thirteen sectors coming to the Hunger Games to fight to the death. There is only one winner. It’s a brutal world, but the combination of watching characters fight for their lives, bond even in the arena, navigate emotional and physical manipulation, long for a return to humanity—love, grace, respect, peace, sanctity of life—is both disturbing and engaging. We’re prodded to think about what we might do if we were in their shoes. But it’s a godless society, so the ending paints no rosy picture—it leaves one feeling hollow and aching for characters we’ve come to care about.
And yet these books and subject matter create a perfect way for parents to talk with their kids about the stuff that matters. I specifically cover ABA/secular fiction here, because that’s what the majority of kids are reading, and if you’re having trouble getting your kids to read, it might be an easier entry point for them. And while some elements in these books are fairly alarming—definitely PG-13 reads—there are also amazing themes that we parents can talk to our kids about.
Here are some questions my kids and I have discussed post–The Hunger Games and Twilight reads:
What does sanctity of life mean?
Questions like that—and the discussions that follow—can help grow our children into thoughtful, insightful adults. But we have to care enough to read and discuss books with them. Fortunately, YA fiction has grown up. And I think you’ll find, as I
have, that it’s actually pretty fun to dip into their series and see what the fuss is all about. Currently hot and in my stacks? I Am Number Four; Maze Runner; Switched; Matched; Fallen.
When I went to the opening of the first Twilight movie with my daughter and saw all the girls in line with the Edward T-shirts on, giddy with excitement over seeing their favorite novel on the big screen, I felt God urging me to write for them. I’d been trying to come up with a concept that would capture even my own reluctant reader in the house, and I had been toying with an “Olivia and Emma (my daughters’ names) medieval princesses” concept for a few years. I’d even written a few chapters, but it really wasn’t on track—nor was it really tracking with them. (The preview chapters I fed them to get them all excited? Yeah, they were met with ho-hum reviews.)
Twilight and The Hunger Games helped me hone the elements that I needed to get the River of Time Series off on the right foot. I wanted human characters (no vampires or werewolves!) in an alternate world (as is the Cullens’ vampire/werewolf world and Hogwarts in Harry Potter). I wanted high romance with definite obstacles (present in Twilight? and somewhat in The Hunger Games). I wanted danger and suspense to keep the pages turning (big in all three series). And I wanted readers to ask themselves, How important is family? What is love? What would I sacrifice for love? Why does God put me in certain places? What is my purpose? And how do I figure that out?
The River of Time Series (Waterfall, Cascade, and Torrent) was born. In it, Gabi and Lia, two American teens, the daughters of Etruscan archeologists, are transported back in time to fourteenth century Italy, where they discover love—and a whole lot of danger. They wrestle with enemies, fight for their lives, discover renewed relationships with parents, and try to make peace with being twenty-first century girls in a fourteenth century world. They are tough and courageous. They’re imperfect and yet well-rounded. Seekers. Go-getters. Loving and caring and passionate. They’re characters I’d want my own kids to emulate. (And happily, both my girls love the series, so maybe they will.)
I included discussion questions to get conversations started between a parent and teen, or within groups of teens. Because when a story strangely becomes partially our own and moves us to think, change, and grow, that’s when fiction—whether it’s YA or adult—is best, and can best be utilized by God.
NOTE: Waterfall is available now, Cascade releases summer 2011, and Torrent releases fall 2011.