An agent once told me that the difference between young adult and middle grade fiction is sex and angst. As a general guideline, young adult novels are aimed at teenagers fourteen and above, while middle grade novels are written for the 9-13 crowd. This division exists from bookstore all the way down through publishing houses and literary agencies, to the writer who sits at home and writes. You might think that distinguishing between teenagers and pre-teens means that young adult novels deal with more complex, adult themes than middle grade. This is true, but not always. Most often I find that YAs really do have the obvious and double advantage of focusing on sex and angst.
So what is angst? I looked it up in the urban dictionary and found these definitions: “Angst...combines the unbearable anguish of life with the hopes of overcoming this seemingly impossible situation.” And specifically about teens: “Angst is about downtrodden teenagers thinking they’re the only bloody people in the world who have it tough, and think that gives them an excuse to wallow in their own self-pity instead of actually doing something about their situation.” Pretty serious wording. Do teenagers really feel like that?
I have an image of myself as a teenager. I think at least in my last two years of high school I suffered from depression. I remember myself mostly painting in my bedroom, listening to Shlomo Artzi on my tape recorder. As a two-time transplant (Israel to South Africa to California in three years), I too carried the weight of the world. I felt like I didn’t belong either with other kids from my class or with the pack of Israeli Tzofim (scouts) who made up my main source of social life. Anguish? Yes. Downtrodden? Yes. Impossible, unbearable and alone.
But here’s the thing. I write to you today in this blog whose name is “Lil’ Corner of Joy,” and to tell you the truth, I don’t want to write about angst. What I want to write about is the diamonds that hide in all of our lives, the precious moments of utter being, of pure pleasure, that make everything else worthwhile. I don’t want to add more negativity to a world already beset by newspaper gossip and televised violence. I want my writing to be a haven, a bubble of peace in the midst of life, a place to rest the mind and come out rejuvenated, inspired, loved.
I’m an idealist. I am also really good at burying my head, ostrich-like, in the ground. The world needs its share of social revolution and political reform, but it also requires dreamers. Like Leo Lionni’s Frederick, the mouse who collects the rays of the sun, the colors of the flowers, and words to help his fellow mice survive winter, I believe food for the soul can make a difference in the world as great, or greater, than any struggle.