My Missing Piece

Or, what I learned about YA from my big sister.

I’ve been giving some thought to why I write YA literature. The simplest answer is one I got from Andrew Karre at a conference. Basically, in writing, teenagers are the easiest to get into trouble. You barely breathe on teenage character and oopsie they’re in trouble. There are barrels problems out there to write about–an endless supply. But I’ve never been fully satisfied when I answer the question that way. Because it doesn’t answer what it is about teenagers that tugs at me and makes me care. I think Shel Silverstein illustrated it best.  Have you read The Missing Piece and The Missing Piece Meets the Big O? Amy, my sister, asked for those books one year  for Christmas when we were teenagers. So I got them for her. And I was all excited because I was going to write in the card something exactly like “You’re my missing piece.” That’s how I rolled. But then I read the books.

I was like, crap, that’s not what these books are about. Amy said it best: “We’re not looking for our missing piece. We’re looking to shape our hard edges until we see the whole person.” And I was like, wow. It was so much of how I felt as a teenager. And that is much of what I’m trying to do with my characters that I write. It seems to me that teenagers have all the stuff inside them that adults do, they just aren’t rounded out. I’m pretty positive we never reach perfect circleness, but all that stuff inside is what interesting people are made of. That struggle to round ourselves out in our teenage years, to me, is a lovely thing.

Published by jody sparks

Jody Sparks Mugele spent her first career in marketing writing and leading teams of writers and editors. After her son came out as transgender in 2015, she dedicated herself to advocating for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. For two years, she led the Indianapolis regional chapter of PFLAG, a nationally renowned LGBTQ+ advocacy group. She has given many conference talks about parenting trans kids, healthcare in the trans community, and suicidality among LGBTQ+ youth. And with GenderNexus, an Indianapolis-based advocacy organization, she created programming and led support groups to work with parents to help their children through all aspects of gender transition. She recently moved to Northeast Georgia where she is excited to develop opportunities to continue to strongly and proudly advocate for LGBTQ+ members of our society. She also LOVES kitschy Christmas crafting!

4 thoughts on “My Missing Piece

  1. Yeah, you are right. They are easy to get into trouble because they are more independent and starting to make bigger choices about life. And their thought process is more mature than mid-grade which I think makes it a bit easier to write about. But you do have to write in a way that they can relate to, which I think you’re good at, maybe because of who you are and because you’ve taught. Some of the things that you have characters do, like licking their foreheads, I’d never think of. I think because I’m more removed from that age group (though Anna Li will soon be there).

    1. I wonder how having actual teenagers in the house will change our writing, Natalie. This next week Eleanor turns 12, the official YA category age. Thanks for compliment, too. You are good at writing dragony action; I can’t see myself writing that. Did I ever tell you the time I had Eleanor read some contemporary YA and she said, “Too much thinking and not enough dragons.” That was funny.

  2. No you didn’t tell me. Funny. In less than a month Anna Li will be 13. It’ll be interesting to see how their reading tastes will change. Anna Li already reads YA books and totally loves the Hunger Game series. I already know I’ll have to let her read the last one in the series first.

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