By contributor Lisa Courtney
In an age of book-to-movie adaptations needing fast-paced stories with universal themes, young adult fiction is a rising publishing category. Far from a new classification, young adult fiction is nevertheless seeing a spike in popularity with all age groups. Enter Susan Juby, a prolific young-adult fiction author, creative writing professor at VIU, and first featured presenter in the Arts and Humanities department’s Colloquium series on September 25.
In her hour-long presentation, Susan spoke to the audience about the general content of a young adult novel, the process of writing such a book, and her newest release, The Truth Commission.
“I continue, at age 46, to deal with some of these things, which is a little sad, but hey, it gives me a career!” she said after a description of commonly-addressed teenage issues in young adult fiction such as self-image and expression, sexuality, and peer pressure surrounding things like sex, drugs, and alcohol. This style of slightly self-deprecating humour pervaded the presentation, eliciting laughter from the audience and inviting them into the world of a person who writes not only extensively but believably about the issues teenagers face while having left those years behind herself. With nine young adult novels released since 2000, one of which (her first, titled Alice, I Think) was adapted into a thirteen episode TV series which aired on CTV from December 18-29, 2006 the ability to place herself in a teenager’s shoes is clearly one that Susan has readily developed.
Not all “teenager problems” are limited to teenagers, however, as Susan discovered in the development of her most recent release, The Truth Commission. She spoke about how she had actually been working on a new adult crime fiction novel when she noticed that several elements of a main plotline were based heavily on someone she was close with. The idea of writing about someone she knew, even unintentionally, without their permission didn’t sit well with her, so the crime novel was tabled, but the experience left her wondering, what if someone did tell the stories of their family and friends without their consent? And so The Truth Commission was born. The story of three high school friends seeking to find “the truth” at their school, the book explores the concept of truth, the many ways it can be construed, and the effects it can have on the people involved.
For the readers and writers in the audience, Susan’s presentation at the Arts and Humanities Colloquium was both an engaging and enlightening experience, providing insight on both the young adult category of novels as well as the writing process. For anyone who fell into neither of those categories, the presentation may well have inspired them to change that. The special appearance at the end by Trevor Cooper, a recent VIU graduate who provided the illustrations for the book, was a touch that reminded the audience of the close community fostered at VIU.