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Veronica Roth: YA Novels Aren’t Frivolous Teen Fiction

Kacey Deamer |
April 13, 2014 | 3:07 p.m. PDT

Operations Director

Veronica Roth signs the books of adoring fans after the event (Sara Newman/Neon Tommy)
Veronica Roth signs the books of adoring fans after the event (Sara Newman/Neon Tommy)

Be still our fangirling hearts. Author of the Divergent trilogy, Veronica Roth, joined the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books Sunday morning to chat with fellow Young Adult fiction author, Leigh Bardugo (of “Shadow and Bone” fame). 

Readers were teeming with excitement, sporting everything from movie T-shirts to Dauntless tattoos, as the University of Southern California (USC)'s Bovard Auditorium filled to the brim. The audience was rather representative of the shift in YA readers, from teenage girls to grown women and men.

Published by HarperCollins in 2011, “Divergent” rose to fame following in the female-driven dystopian novel footsteps of “The Hunger Games,” and has also been adapted into a major motion picture. Roth has been praised for her development of the Divergent Universe, grounded in a post-apocalyptic Chicago and told primarily through the voice of it’s heroine, Tris. Roth shared that in her original draft — written four years before the draft that we now know as “Divergent” was sold to publishers — it was from Four/Tobias’s perspective.

READ MORE: L.A. Times Festival Of Books: Must See, Do And Taste

“Something about a young man leaving a repressing environment and self-actualizing and like, taking risks and jumping off buildings into nets and stuff didn’t feel surprising,” Roth said. “It’s a story that already exists: man leaves home and becomes more manly.”

Traditionally in literature, the male lead’s journey is toward self-actualization and the female’s is toward reconciliation. Roth wanted to write in the inverse and have Tris become “her fully realized self throughout the course of the series.” Whereas Four learns to forgive, trust, and rely on other people. This swap is reflected most notably in the character’s voices — Four narrates part of the third book, Allegiant.

“Tris’ voice is hard, direct, straightforward and reliable, and sometimes repetitive. These are sort of stereotypical masculine characteristics,” Roth said. “Four is a little more poetic, a little more stream-of-consciousness. He doesn’t hold things from you, and that’s something we might associated with being slightly more feminine.”

Credited as Veronica Roth “in conversation with Leigh Bardugo,” the event was very much run like two friends having a chat about literature, life and the world around us. While both authors referenced their works in relation to the questions each other raised, much of the chat revolved around the YA genre as a whole. Bardugo asked Roth what she would most like to see from YA authors.

“What I would like to see is a little more attention given to things that are already happening, which is really books full of very diverse characters having a wide range of experiences,“ Roth said. “I think so many things are happening in YA that it’s hard to be like: ‘Here’s a hole that someone needs to fill.’ Because someone is filling that hole, you just don’t know that they are.”

READ MORE: John Green At The L.A. Times Festival Of Books

Young Adult fiction may be the most diverse genre of literature today, from breaking gender norms to including characters of different races, gender identities, socioeconomic backgrounds, etc. Bardugo agreed that there is much being done in the YA genre that goes unrecognized. More needs to be done in terms of getting those titles to the audiences and raising awareness of the work.

“I always had this idea that if you became an author, everybody would know about your book,” Bardugo said. “I don’t know why I thought that. You walk into a bookstore, there’s so many books that you’ve never heard of and it always bums me out.”

The fact that these books, targeted generally toward younger readers, carry such strong messages of individuality and acceptance of diversity is important as the world faces such strong animosity toward differences — even in 2014. 

In discussing how they have changed as readers since becoming authors, Berdugo and Roth touched on the change in mentality from young to adult readers. Young readers are more open to immersive reading, Berdugo said, similar to how it’s easier to learn new languages in your youth. Roth noted the hesitation adult readers tend to have, closing them off to new ideas, new characters, new worlds.

“When you get older you enter a book with skepticism, like ‘Prove to me that you are worth my time,’” Roth said. “When you’re younger I think you approach a book: ‘Awww, this is going to be worth my time and I can’t wait.’ All I want for my adulthood is to go back to that, because I think I will enjoy books more.”

READ MORE: Film Review: 'Divergent'

It was her love of literature, young adult literature in particular, that encouraged Roth’s venture into the Divergent Universe. While in college, she said there was an intellectual elitism that kept her from discussing her writing. This led to the Erudite faction, which Roth acknowledges was the least nuanced in the first two books.

Respect was the key word, respect of the genre and its readers. Berdugo said she’s tired of people asking her when she’ll write a “real book.” Noting that not only are these critics “talking smack” about YA but they’re offending the readers themselves. Roth noted that YA readers are so much more than “silly teenage girls.”

“You know those young women, the last thing they need to hear is that they’re silly,” Roth said. “Any young person to be told: ‘What you like is stupid, you’ll grow out of it.’ Those [young] people will grow up to run your whole country, so…” Drops mic.

Favorite quotes of the event:

“I always forget to say Harry Potter, as if it wasn’t the formative series of my youth.” — Roth

“It’s interesting to realize just how much of your brain appears in the book." — Roth

“I ship it!” — Bardugo

“If you take anything away from this talk, learn a language." — Roth

“It was like a little playground for my brain.” — Roth

“What happens when you bring a gun to a magic fight?" — Bardugo

“I was poser, actually. I was a major poser.” — Roth

“She’s actually really funny, so maybe the next book won’t tear my heart out in the end?” — Hopeful audience member


Contact Operations Director Kacey Deamer here



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