Why, you might ask, do I pass over the YA (young adult) years in between? The answer is twofold: One, is that I remember by pre-teen years with affection as I do my early working life, and two, the age range for the YA genre spans readers from twelve to thirty-five. I wrote Never Less for young teens because I wanted to give them a way to reconcile their world with the overdoses they hear about almost daily. It turns out that both teens and adults crave the hope in Never Less. But the ever-changing behavior of readers allows me to take advantage. A recent Publisher’s Weekly article asked Who Is YA For? Here’s an extract from that article:
“According to January 2023 WordsRated statistics, 51% of YA books are purchased by people between the ages of 30 and 44, and 78% of those buyers said that they intended to read the books themselves. In recent years, librarians report that more middle grade readers (traditionally eight-to 12-year-olds) are “reading up” to YA books. Twelve-year-olds and 35-year-olds reading the same books? Publishing isn’t set up for this range of readership. So, who is YA for?”
This phenomenon confirms my compulsion to write my stories as if I’m telling them to my best friend. To hell with publishing house rules and Amazon age brackets.
But hold on, the evidence points to the fact that avid readers generally “read up”, meaning they read books above their age bracket. I knew this when I wrote Never Less, hence the so-called “heavy lift” for a twelve-year-old; adults love the book. It turns out Middle grade readers “read up” on YA themes; it’s a way to challenge themselves as readers. Even if the subject matter of opioid addiction and immigration is unsettling, they read from the (hopefully) safe distance of the novel.
Because it is a series, Book Two will be released when those same YA readers are older and again reading up to stories more akin to adult reads, or what publishers call “new adult” lit — characters between 18ish to 26ish. They’ll ask the question: what happens after the angst, and the awkward, painful high school and college years? Answer: the messy adult years will provide the stories about juggling responsibilities while trying to figure out what the heck they are doing.
The PW article continues . . . “YA books are for everyone—or at least everyone who can read at that level and relate to what the characters are going through,” says Sarah McCabe, senior editor at Margaret K. McElderry Books. “YA at its heart is about learning who you are and choosing who you want to become, and that’s not a journey that stops as soon as you turn 18. Even as adults, that question, Who are we? is one we are continually asking ourselves.” (A version of this article appeared in the 10/16/2023 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: Who Is YA For?)
And that, my friends, is exactly the question Pablo and Mindy are asking when they enter the “real” world after college.
I write about reality. For me, it’s a deeply fascinating and multi-faceted subject, and in this book I’ll look at the perception of reality. Ergo, the premise for the book is:
Like everyone else, YA readers (reading about new adult characters) are asking, what does Truth mean? Pablo and Mindy are confused about the difference between the two. They are not alone.
Naomi Klein calls it the “mirror world”. Her brilliant book, Doppelganger (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux) dissects the big picture of the real and unreal world we live in.
However, unlike Klein’s book, I am not writing a journalistic non-fiction book from fifty-thousand feet. I am writing about the close, confusing world Pablo and Mindy find themselves in. Their struggles are both real and unreal. P&M see themselves as adults and are cut no slack because they’re twenty-two. It is this glimpse into their future adulthood that will make the second book relatable to that wide swath of post-YA readers. (Who of us does not remember our first forays into the adult years?) Of course, these readers don’t have amnesia; in hindsight they’ll remember the lessons of those tween years. The action happens in the present, always, without pity, driving forward. As in the first book, the writing is present tense.
They come to the realization that perception and their identity in their world does little to provide perspective. That only comes when they confront the uncomfortable truth underneath. But these two don’t shy away. Their quest is set—and I wish them good luck…
OKAY, BUT WHAT’S THE THEME OF THIS STORY?
Implied in the title, Never Is Not Forever is the theme in the new novel: Western society used to value things that lasted forever however, Gen Z readers know plastic and carbon fibre and forever chemicals are anathema on this planet. The paradigm shift that Pablo and Mindy must make is that even progress in the circular economy is not good enough.
Generative AI is in no way similar to
Nature’s regeneration of life.
The contributions of P&M must compliment Nature and break the habit of thinking our species are the exception to it. The stakes are high and they can no longer bank on surviving a hot planet, unless they adapt . . . (Note: This is not a dystopian novel.)
I am excited to say that Never Less will soon be a useful teaching tool for teachers, counselors, parents, grand-parents, and guardians. I am being advised by an experienced and visionary ex- middle grade teacher on presenting an inquiry-based course to teach the themes in Never Less. These themes put the fentanyl crisis in perspective and give young people a way of understanding what it is and how they can be empowered to dismantle it.
Stay tuned for that offer. If you want to refer the book and the course material to your school, please mention I am available to present the course and to talk about the book, writing, and how it ended up as a thriller for young teenagers. Here is a link that describes in more detail the method and inquiry-based learning approach I will take when visiting schools, or if teachers use the course material to teach from the book.