Characteristics of great YA novels

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I love reading YA and have noticed there are a few elements that set exceptional YA novels apart from so-so ones.  As such, here is my analysis of what makes for an epic YA novel, using John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars as an example.

  1. The train wreck plot. What I mean by this is, you know (or can guess) how the novel is going to end but you read it anyway. The train wreck in The Fault in Our Stars is cancer – you know it’s going to take one of the characters but you continue reading because you’re interested in what happens in the middle aka the journey.
  2. Romance. It doesn’t always have to be central to the story, but it should be included somewhere. Hazel and Gus’s romance in The Fault in Our Stars reminds readers of their first love or gives them the chance to live vicariously through them which further invests them in the story.
  3. Quotable lines about the human condition and/or life’s truths. The Fault in Our Stars is great at this. From “What a slut time is” to “Some infinities are bigger than other infinities” it excels constantly in this regard. My favorite line from the book is, “That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.” I was floored when I read this and quote it in conversation sometimes.  If a novel sticks with readers like this they’ll become its biggest champion.
  4. A quest – small or large. There are a few quests in The Fault in Our Stars. There is Gus’s quest to woo Hazel.  Hazel and Gus’s shared quest to meet Peter Van Houten.  Isaac’s quest to overcome heartache.  Quests drive the plot forward.

The best writers read as many books as they can. Study what makes your favorite books great and apply what you learn to your own writing.

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