So, let me ask you a question – list all the different genres of YA that come to mind?
Fantasy – yes. Contemporary – yes. Dystopian – of course (though who knew that they would become history and we’d be living through one in 2020/21?). Eventually you’d come to comedy. Whilst funny books are fortunately plentiful in middle grade, there seem to be fewer aimed at teenagers. But why? Don’t teenagers deserve a giggle too?
Well, you might say being a teenager is pretty horrific. There’s really not much to laugh at, is there? Increased pressure at school. Being possessed by a strange cocktail of hormones that change your body and take hold of your moods so that Jekyll and Hyde aren’t two characters you study but a fairly accurate description of your day before you even get to breakfast. So, it’s no surprise that the majority of books written with teenagers in mind focus on the darker side of things to begin with but end up in the light.
However, I do see things somewhat differently. Firstly, I live with two teenagers and if you don’t, then you’re really missing out. Because let me tell you, they are hilarious. In the days of glory when children actually went to school, I would wait with anticipation for an account of what had Gone Down at school. One of my favourite stories was a particularly intense argument that took place during a silent library lesson. Accusations were mouthed to each other, culminating in a book fight before the silent antagonists had to be separated to cool down. Of course, I’m not advocating violence to books and I’m assured no books were damaged in the confrontation, (that would be a tragedy) but a wordless but furious confrontation is as ridiculous as you might find in the highest farce.
And that’s what interests me – how the elements of comedy and tragedy are aligned. I love exploring hubris, an element of both genres. A character is over-confident and sure of success – in comedy, you wait with delicious anticipation knowing the writer is going to bring them to the ground shortly. In Tulip Taylor, make up obsessed Tulip smuggles an eyeliner on to the reality TV show that she’s somewhat unwillingly volunteers for. She revels in her cleverness at breaking the rules, only for it to work its way down from her bra and poke her in a very painful place. All caught on camera. Tragic for Tulip’s sense of pride, (hopefully) comedy gold for the reader.
Finally, given the last twelve months, I really think that our teenagers deserve some laughs even more so than usual. Give them Holly Smale, Beth Garrod, Jenny McLachlan, you could even give them Tulip Taylor or Rebel with a Cupcake. So yes, writing funny for books for teenagers is not an easy thing. But in these tough times, I really do think that they deserve at the very, very least, the chance to escape into a book which will definitely make them smile and who knows, there might even be laughter.