The Measure of a Good Book
by Darcy Woods
The word “important” gets tossed around like a comma in many conversations about young adult lit. And rightly so. We are living in a Golden Age of YA! Never before has this genre had the freedom to explore topics of gender, sexuality, race, religion, and social issues, with the raw honesty it does today.
But what makes a book “important”? Is it the timeliness of the issue tackled? Or the sensitivity with which it’s handled? Maybe it’s that few authors have dared to go there. Fact is, we could sit here making a list of qualifiers that would easily rival the length of Rapunzel’s hair.
Personally, I think there is only ONE right answer to this question.
Before we get to that, I’d like you to consider some of your favorite books—current or past. For me, as a pre and early teen, I deeeeevoured the Nancy Drew books! Rat-holed every cent of my allowance just so I could buy a new book every other week. Because nothing compared to sinking into a story where clever girls reigned supreme, and the only true mystery was why Nancy and Ned didn’t kiss more. Little wonder how I ended up writing young adult books with strong romantic elements.
Flash forward *cough cough* number of years, and my passion for YA was reignited with blockbuster hits like Harry Potter and Twilight. This was then followed up by what I affectionately refer to as my Fairy Phase. My fingers couldn’t flip the pages of Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series and Maggie Stiefvater’s Lament duology fast enough! I later segued into contemporary authors such as Jandy Nelson, Jenny Han, and Stephanie Perkins. Which is when I discovered straight contemporary stories could feel every bit as magical as any fantasy.
Okay. I haven’t even come close to scratching the surface of the teeming bookshelf that is all the novels I’ve adored. But I suspect a good chunk of them would be considered the F-word. The other F-word! That’s right, I’m talking about FLUFF. Books that might not have won esteemed literary awards. They didn’t necessarily take on a difficult issue. And probably envelopes weren’t pushed . . .
And yet, I loved them. Deeply. Unconditionally. It didn’t matter that some of these novels had the literary nutritional value of a doughnut. They were exactly the stories I needed when my world was rocked by a life-changing health diagnosis. Or when both my grandparents went into hospice care and I wondered each visit if this would be the goodbye that stuck. Or when I had that offer of publication withdrawn and watched my dreams turn to dust. These stories offered the solace I was desperately seeking. Quite simply, these books were my everything.
So what makes a book “important”?
The READER does.
Only a reader can determine the true worth of a book. And whether you measure that importance by the tears you’ve cried, the laughs you’ve had, or the number of breaths stolen—ALL of these are correct. All are valid reasons to cherish a book.
So this, my fellow writers, is my love letter to you. To thank you for having the courage to write that story, whatever it may be, that was screaming to be told. To remind you that no matter how insurmountable that publishing mountain can seem, your words matter. Keep writing them.
Because every story is important. Especially to the reader who needs to hear it most.
Young adult author Darcy Woods had three big loves in grade school: reading, writing, and pizza day. Some things never change. She lives in Michigan with her madly supportive husband, two tuxedo cats (who overdress for everything) and a closet full of neatly organized shoes. Once upon a time, she served in a US Army aviation unit and threw live grenades. Now she throws words. SUMMER OF SUPERNOVAS is her Golden Heart®-winning debut novel, translated in over five languages.
Summer of Supernovas
Fans of Jennifer E. Smith and Jenny Han will fall in love with this heartfelt and humor-laced debut following one girl’s race to find the guy of her cosmic dreams.
When zodiac-obsessed teen Wilamena Carlisle discovers a planetary alignment that won’t repeat for a decade, she’s forced to tackle her greatest astrological fear: The Fifth House—relationships and love.
But when Wil falls for a sensitive guitar player hailing from the wrong side of the astrology chart, she must decide whether a cosmically doomed love is worth rejecting her dead mother’s legacy and the very system she’s faithfully followed through a lifetime of unfailing belief.
I think writers need all the positive motivation they can get, so thank you so much Darcy for reminding them their words matter and for providing us with such an intimate and loving post.
Also, a huge thank you to everyone who has or will be participating in this feature. It means the world to so many writers to know that they’re not alone in their struggles.