Why I write YA? And why you should too.

Stories are road maps to the spirit’s journey. They can entertain and provide escape from troubling or mundane surroundings. Stories can teach life lessons, making understandable that which formerly was mysterious and unknown. Stories are a safe place to deal with hard issues and alternate ways of thinking that might otherwise threaten, challenge or confront the reader’s own belief system. And within the very best stories there are insights which lead us to make sense of ourselves, and thus of one other and of the world.

I am a young adult writer. In my novels and stories, I invite readers into the world of working class, urban, Mexican-Americans living near the US-Mexican border. I write about race, class, identity, and immigration, all with a twist of comedy. In my own small way, I am working to reshape the teen experience in America.

Why am I drawn to this genre?

Traditional people have always seen adolescence as a pivotal time in life. It was and still is the time when we are cast out of the known and into the unknown, when we first send out a call and hope the world will answer back. Ceremonies, celebrations, mythologies and traditions were bestowed upon young people to help guide them on their life journeys. As a society, this is no longer the case.

The influence of TV and American corporate media is all-pervasive and profound. The images they project are like false mirrors that show us not how we are but how we should be. We can’t help but admire and compare ourselves to images of beauty and success of our favorite movie or TV characters, our singers or other cultural icons.

As a young girl, I remember an episode of the “Smurfs” that made me feel ashamed about the way I looked. Bad Smurfette, who was a spy for the villain Gargamel, was dark-haired and dark-eyed – like me. When Papa Smurf cured her with a touch of magic, she transformed into a sweet beautiful blonde. Though I did not understand anything about writers and the TV industry, I got the message, loud and clear, that dark was bad and light was good. This message and hundreds of others just like it led to years of low self-esteem and crazy attempts to lighten my skin, hide my cultural background, and a desire to transform myself into something that the greater society would deem sweet and beautiful.

This is why we need more diverse books, more books about ourselves and the people around us, more books that touch both on our distinct cultures that distinguish us and the universal experiences that unite us. This is why I write.

I consciously write books that honor, celebrate, and are critical of the experiences of Latino youth. When I write, I write for that poor brown girl who was me, bombarded with people telling her who she should be and how she should look. She has dreams, but she’s embarrassed to breathe life into them because she fears ridicule, disappointment, and failure. I write for her and for all the kids like her. I try to give hope. Of course I try to entertain, but I also try to commiserate with them, because it’s hard being a teenager. It’s hard to be in middle school. It’s hard to stand alone. It’s especially hard to believe in yourself when no one understands or supports you.

I was lucky to be raised in San Francisco, where it was okay to be a nonconformist and weird. In San Francisco, diversity was the norm. As authors, we can take on this role. Our stories can connect young audiences to the larger world. Our stories can inspire and motivate them to have hope, to work hard and believe in themselves, to treat one another with esteem and – most importantly – let them know that they are not alone.

 I invite you to come and work with me at the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference to reshape the image of what it means to be young in America. For me, writing stories with messages of self-love and love of others just as they are is at the very core of our work.

 Space is still available in my YA workshop. Go to: http://www.mcwc.org

Scholarships are available!

http://www.leeandlow.com/images/Childrens_Book_Infographic-lg.jpg