Happy Ninth Birthday to The Unwanted

I was an awkward nine-year-old. This probably comes as no surprise, right? I was a nerdy kid with thick glasses and a bad haircut—and let’s face it, not much has changed in the 44 years since, except the glasses are contacts and the hair is gray. I’m still a big nerd, and most days my hair won’t do what I want it to. Somehow, I survived being nine, though—and ten, eleven, twelve, and somehow made it to thirteen, and eventually, somewhere along the way, I managed to find my footing and figure out who I was. Although that process of discovery is still a work in progress, and probably always will be.

cover of the novel The UnwantedI’ve been thinking about age nine because, hard to believe as it is, my first YA novel, The Unwanted, came out nine years ago this month. And so far, yes, it’s my only YA novel that’s been published, if we don’t count “Roadside Assistance,” which was a novella published as part of Three Left Turns to Nowhere last year. This is not to say that I haven’t written a few more, which are now taking up space in my hard drive. More about those later.

The Unwanted was my awkward second novel. It never really found its footing among readers, but I had a blast writing it. I’ve often heard the advice, Don’t expect writing a novel to change your life, but in this case, it really did, although not in the way you might expect.

The Unwanted marked a significant shift in my own reading habits. While I’d read quite a few young adult novels before that, I really went all in on the YA genre after that, to the point where it was most of what I read (and still read). I’ve tried to put my finger on what it is about YA that appeals to me so much as a reader and a writer, especially as I get older and time puts more distance between me and my own young adulthood.

Maybe you’ve heard other writers say that they write the books they want to read. And maybe you’ve also heard YA writers in particular say they write the books they wish they could have read when they were teenagers. I think both of those apply to me. Here’s the thing about the latter, though: a lot of times, I’ve heard writers say that those books weren’t out there when they were that age. I’ve said the same thing myself. But they totally were out there. I just didn’t know how to find them. They were hidden from us; people made it difficult for us to find and get our hands on them. That’s why I never saw books with people like me in them. Makes it easy to believe that you’re the only one like you in the world.

Maybe that isn’t why I started writing YA, but it’s a big part of the reason I keep writing YA. Because people deserve to see stories about people like them. And the more stories there are that have visibly queer teenagers (and adults) in them, the harder it is for them to say we don’t exist.

But having a mission like that probably wouldn’t be enough to sustain my writing if I also didn’t just plain love it. I get a lot of joy out of writing the stories and books I write, and as long as that continues, I’ll keep writing them. And hopefully some of them will find their way to readers who see in them something they needed to see.