Although I didn't have to read this book, I found it when I was browsing the children's library last month. Since it's about the circus and I'm not sure whether my book is going to turn out to be YA or not, I figured I'd read a children's book just to see.
The Greatest Show Off Earth by Margaret Mahy is a fun-filled story about a traveling space circus. Hey, it sounds a bit like my travelling circus restaurant! Although this book did convince me that this age group is -not- my target age range (amazon lists it for ages 8-12), I was suprised at the sophisticated language used in the book: in other words, I don't have to worry too much about "dumbing down" my language in order to write a book that appeals to a larger audience.
Mahy also makes up a lot of words like "crashnabbersnuck" which are used throughout the book as curses. Using made-up curses is fun and a useful way to express negative feelings without inciting the wrath of parent-censors. Nice!
The other thing that impressed me about this book is the way that every unusual detail introduced comes to play a role in the story: in other words, this story leaves no loose ends. Delphinium, the main character, mentions her missing parents and an old babysitter, and Jason, the other main character, mentions his missing brother, and, BAM, by the end of the book, all of these mysteries are solved.
This is important, I think, especially in writing for a younger audience, because kids remember EVERYTHING. If you promise to play a game of Othlello or let them feed your fish, they will remember and hound you about it. Believe me. So I'm sure a story is much the same way. I had a cool experience yesterday in that one of my critique partners from the WPF program had her 12-year-old cousin staying with her the week she received my manuscript.
Since my story stars 13-year-old Daniel, she let her cousin read the manuscript -and- had the cousin write her own critique and her questions about the story. She sent this critique with hers. Since I got a half-page of questions plus a critique, I figured she was interested in the story enough to want to read more. This is a positive sign, and makes me think that I should focus on the YA audience.
The problem, I think, are the issues I want to address in the book: in some respects, my book is a coming of age story as well as a story about "roots." How does having a YA audience limit the issues I can discuss in the novel? Maybe it's okay for a YA book to be edgy.
Daniel is a pretty jaded kid; he's seen more than most kids his age and is exposed to cigarettes, drugs, drinking, etc. at a fairly early age. I wasn't as worldly as Daniel when I was thirteen, but I know quite a few men who were having sex even earlier than 13 and in some respects, I was a late bloomer when I tried my first cigarette in the eighth grade. Come to think of it, the girl who introduced me to smoking had been smoking for several years before I ever tried one. Maybe I can write for a YA audience. Hmm...