Young Adult At ThrillerFest

RT Summer Intern Spencer Freeman learns an important lesson at the Thrillerfest panel on the  appeal of YA novels  …

Thanks to bestselling series such as Harry Potter and Twilight, the market for young adult books goes beyond juvenile readers. During this year’s ThrillerFest, the annual convention for thriller authors and fans, there was a panel discussing the ever-popular question, “Are YA Novels for Grownups Too?”

The panel consisted of authors A.J. Hartley, F. Paul Wilson , Jennifer Alison, Ridley Pearson, R.L. Stine and YA publisher Andrew Harwell. F. Paul Wilson, panel moderator and bestselling author in his own right, led the discussion about the diverse readership of Young Adult novels. Other topics they touched on included dark themes in YA books, cross-over characters in series and the fact that many of their readers know their books better than the authors themselves.

The panelists agreed that the readership for YA books spans beyond the targeted 10-to-14-year-old demographic. But the reading preferences of the genre's intended audience does play a large part in what makes the genre so special. The authors emphasized the point that they never talk down to young readers. But when it comes to what kids are able to cope with? The panelists say that everything is fair game. There's nothing too scary to put in the books.

One interesting idea that the panelists brought up was that young readers may not always find death scenes traumatizing, but many are upset by unjust endings. Stine said he’s gotten angry e-mails from fans who are upset when there are inconsistencies or unhappy endings in his books. After one particular book, he recalled that, “Readers turned on me and wrote ‘Dear R.L. Stine, you moron!’ ” Stine admitted that eventually he gave in and “fixed it” by writing a sequel.

Something else that makes the young adult novels so special? the amount of emotion that readers bring to the books. “Readers bond with characters,” said Jennifer Alison, author of the Gilda Joyce Psychic Investigator series. “They want to believe characters are real.”


But despite the topics these authors touched on, the 50-minute panel was also a love poem to Stine, creator of the mega-selling Goosebumps series for kids. Wilson compared the Goosebumps master to Superman. “You’re from Krypton,” Wilson raved. The crowd chuckled in response, while Stine grinned modestly.

Andrew Harwell, a publisher from Dutton Children’s Books, chimed in and said that growing up he read three Goosebumps books a week.

“He turned out pretty well,” Stine joked, pointing at Harwell.

I was equally star-struck when I first laid eyes on Stine, but I was surprised to see that I wasn’t the only one obsessed with the legendary author. So what secrets were revealed at the panel? Not that adults love YA — that much is obvious — but that adults still love R.L. Stine and will always have a place for Goosebumps novels on their overflowing bookshelves.

 – Spencer A. Freeman