“One choice can transform you.” Get a job? Get married? Go to college?
“This school hides dark secrets.” Bullying. Body dysmorphia. Kids facing adult problems.
“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” Winning can feel like everything for those involved in athletics or other competitive activities.
“What if your parents could unwind you?” What if they already are? What if the people you’re supposed to trust are hurting you?
“By a single deed, I had become something more than I wanted to be.” What would you give to turn back the clock? How do you reverse a decision that has taken on a life of its own?
If you recognize many of these quotes, it’s because they’re catch lines from popular book series that resonate with young adults—Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy, Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and Neal Shusterman’s Unwind series. The last is the catch line for my own book, The Queen's Choice, the first in the Heirs of Chrior series. As a 21-year-old author of two young adult series, I’m in the unique position both of writing for and being part of this market. For me, writing and reading are therapeutic—I live vicariously through my own characters as well as those created by other writers, because the experiences of characters in epic historical, contemporary, or dystopian series evoke striking parallels to the experiences of today’s youth.
It’s scary to think that one choice can transform you, but in the midst of the most metamorphic periods of people’s lives, it’s comforting and empowering to face those fears alongside Beatrice Prior in Divergent, and with Tris’s help, learn how to become truly dauntless.
The struggles we face as young adults are criminally underestimated, as highlighted in the themes of the Gemma Doyle trilogy, the Unwind series, my own Legacy trilogy and even the Song of Ice and Fire books, which aren't solely marketed to young adults. Every high school or college student has had an experience they didn’t feel they could share, perhaps because they were ashamed, or had been marginalized by their peers, or any number of other reasons. The enormous pressures often placed on high school athletes can lead to lifelong injuries, echoing Cersei Lannister’s assertion about winning or dying. Research into online teen help forums and the struggles of social services workers reveals that parents and guardians have the ability to strip their children of pride, self-worth, and hope, arguably the real-world version of being unwound.
A good book series has staying power because the resilience of the characters gives resilience to those of us who identify with them. When Tris, Gemma, Arya, and Connor face their challenges, they impart the fortitude to help us survive our own challenges. Exploring a character’s darkest thoughts and deepest secrets legitimizes feelings we may perceive within ourselves to be unspeakable. For me, this is reflected in the journey of my Queen’s Choice heroine, Anya, who loses her wings and becomes trapped outside the Faerie Realm, where she is forced to reevaluate her perceptions of bravery, honesty, and what it means to have a home—much the same perceptions I had to question when I went away to college halfway across the country.
I’ve saved for last what I personally find to be the most stirring quote of all: “Sparks will fly.” Suzanne Collins’s Katniss Everdeen has permeated our lives in recent years as one of literature’s fiercest and most inspiring characters. She shows that in the midst of human fault, terror, and a complex and duplicitous world, a single person can start a wave that may affect humankind.
I choose to write and read series because they carry me through ups and downs, joys and traumas, through the very kinds of experiences young adults are undergoing, experiences that can make anyone feel alone and powerless. Books represent safe zones in which to explore our struggles through the eyes and emotions of a character with whom we feel a sense of friendship, and a series is a compelling way to make that friendship last.