Vampires, Werewolves, and Zombies, step aside: Why I write YA

by Aisha Saeed

People often ask me why I choose to write young-adult fiction [YA]. It’s a good question. As a reader, I devour everything from literary fiction to fantasy to suspense to YA. Reading a diverse range of genres enriches my reading life, but when I write, why do I choose to focus exclusively on YA stories?  

I could tell you it’s because of how YA exploded onto the scene in recent years. The growth is indeed exponential and YA readers range from pre-teens all the way to adults, present party included.

But that’s not the reason I write YA.

I could tell you I write YA because of how emotionally driven YA novels are. The ever-present ever-examined emotional truth in YA resonates on a deep level with me. The young adult years are about figuring out who you are and your place in the world. Though I’m an adult, and have been for years, this is a struggle I deeply identify with. It’s fascinating to explore these facets of the human experience through my characters. Writing about their journeys helps me navigate my own.

But that’s not the reason I write YA.

I could point out how important it is for diversity in YA and the scarcity of stories about the Muslim American narrative. While werewolves, zombies and vampires are all the rage in young adult, my stories are less about paranormal and more about normalizing the Pakistani American experience.  To be clear, I do write about the unique issues teens face in Pakistani American culture, and some of what I write is harsh and unvarnished truth about problems in South Asian communities, but I believe there is power in owning our stories, warts and all. And I believe there is power in seeing yourself reflected back at you in literature. As a writer, it is heartening to know my stories add to a narrative that needs to be told.

And while that is huge. It is important. It is amazing. That is not why I write YA either.

The real reason is I chose to write YA? It’s because YA chose me. When I first decided to quiet the doubts, and simply begin outlining my first novel, I intended to write adult fiction. But when pen hit paper, those weren’t the voices that spoke to me. Those weren’t the voices that asked to be revealed through my mind’s eye. The stories that spoke to me, that compelled me to keep going, writing until the wee hours of the morning, those stories? They turned out to be YA. I can’t explain why, I can’t apply reason. While I may read everything from J.K. Rowling to Jhumpa Lahiri from Ha Jin to George R. R. Martin, when I write, there is just one voice that feels right: It’s Young Adult. And while I am supremely proud to own the title of YA writer, it is the voice and the stories that inspire me, that make me one; that alone is the reason I write.

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Aisha Saeed is a contributor to story and chai, focusing on YA books and writers. She is also a mama, lawyer, teacher, and maker and drinker of chai. She is a contributing author in the New York Times featured anthology Love InshallahAisha has been blogging for a decade at her website, and her writing has also appeared in places such as The Orlando Sentinel, BlogHer, Muslim Girl Magazineand Red Tricycle. She also writes a monthly column, Literary Mama, at LoveInshallah.com. While Aisha has completed two young adult novels and is represented by Taylor Martindale at Full Circle Literary Agency.

You can connect with Aisha at her website, or follow along on FacebookTwitterInstagramPinterest, or Tumblr. You can also reach her by e-mail at aishacs@gmail.com

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