Why teens deserve great fiction
Published on: 19 July 2023
Author Jo Simmons explains why teens need more books aimed specifically at them.
I have been working on a trilogy of books pitched squarely at teens. The first is called 'The Reluctant Vampire Queen' and they feature protagonist Mo, a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl, told by an ancient vampire Bogdan that she’s destined to be the Vampire Queen of Great Britain. As a young feminist with big ambitions for her future career, she’s interested in the leadership part, but less so the becoming a vampire bit (she’s a vegetarian, after all). Cue some comic twists and turns as she navigates her new role without joining the dark side completely, while also doing her GCSEs.
Why write for teens?
I wanted to write for teens because I felt there was an absence of books aimed at them but a genuine demand there. I’m not alone in this view. The lack of teen fiction has become a lively topic in publishing lately.
Teen is often defined as 13 to 15 years old, but I don’t think applying age brackets is helpful. For me, teen covers that space in a young person’s life when they’re moving beyond middle grade fiction but not yet ready for the subject matter and length of most YA, which is often skewered towards older teens.
Why is it important to keep reading as a teenager?
This is such a golden moment in a young person’s reading journey, after all. They want meatier content, more complex plots and longer books. It’s also a time when they may actually still want to read – because that love of books can wither as children becomes teens and everything from friendships to social media and exams vie for their attention. If kids are falling out of love with reading so early on, shouldn’t we be working extra hard to provide stories that can keep them engaged?
What keeps teens engaged?
Which brings me to subject matter. What fires a young teen’s imagination? I took my steer from my husband, who teaches English at a state secondary school for girls. His students in years seven and eight loved writing stories that contained classic horror elements – we’re talking blood, gore, darkness, girls marooned up towers… A picture formed in my mind of a potential reader, pre- or just-teen, graduating from middle grade and still fond of reading, but now with a penchant for the dark side. This seemed a very real and worthy audience. I saw scope to write a story of around 70,000 words that tilted towards the edgy and grim, but with lots of humour and a fast-paced plot to prevent it from becoming too heavy or ‘old’. Funny-scary would be my genre, and that led me immediately to vampires.
Vampire mythology is so well understood, but always ripe for reinvention. Giving a slightly geeky, super-organised teenager the job of leading and inspiring a small, traumatised group of vampires hiding out in Great Britain hummed with comic possibilities. I worked in some (admittedly very idealised) romance, too, in the form of Bogdan’s familiar Luca. Mo falls hard for him, and wrestles with the tidal wave of new emotions that sweep through her. So, a classic Chosen One narrative gets some coming-of-age angst. The vampire myth itself proved brilliantly able to shoulder contemporary concerns. I’ve touched on bullying, consent, immigration, equality and parental relationships, mixed in with plenty of stakes, fangs and stupid jokes.
My books are not thrillers. They don’t contain complex world building or tackle the mature issues that a seventeen-year-old might face. I intend my stories to be entertaining and fun, an escape from a busy and often baffling world. Reading, as we all know, beats back isolation and nourishes empathy. It improves life chances and overall happiness. So let’s cater to all the readers out there, and not risk losing young teens for want of stories that hit the tone, length and content they find approachable.
'The Reluctant Vampire Queen' by Jo Simmons is out now.
Bookbuzz is a reading programme from BookTrust that aims to help schools inspire a love of reading in 11 to 13-year-olds. Participating schools give their students the opportunity to choose their own book to take home and keep from a list of 17 titles.