The Next Chapter

Susan Juby and Susin Nielsen talk about the young adult boom

Young adult fiction has been one of the biggest book trends of the past decade.
Susin Nielsen (left) and Susan Juby (right) say some of the most exciting writing in contemporary literature can be found in the young adult section. (Photo of Susin Nielsen by Tallulah Photography)

Young adult fiction has been one of the biggest book trends of the past decade. Seasoned writers Susan Juby and Susin Nielsen have long been Canadian YA favourites, best known for Alice, I Think and Word Nerd respectively.

The two authors joined Shelagh Rogers to talk about the young adult boom and their latest books: Susan Juby's The Truth Commission and Susin Nielsen's We Are All Made of Molecules. This interview originally aired on November 9, 2015.


Susan Juby: I think the voices just live there. I eavesdrop, quite a bit, in a creepy way. It comes very naturally to me. I don't have to go very far back in my emotional memories to completely access that time of life.

Susin Nielsen: They'll start to talk to me in my head. Then, you find the layers as you start writing that particular character. I find they can start a little more one- or two-dimensional and that moment when they really start to lift off the page is very gratifying. 

SJ: The character's history is often revealed from scene to scene. You know they'll be reflecting back on their family, where they came from, and all of that helps to give them depth. So does the idea that they're all looking for something, seeking something, afraid of something, in love with something. All of that adds nuance to them.


SJ: I certainly haven't intended to use my family or anyone close to me, but it happens all the time. The Truth Commission was born out of me working on an adult crime novel. I was 200 pages in when I realized that I had used big chunks of the story of someone close to me without even being aware of it. It wasn't that I set out intending to do that, it just happened. It must be very unsettling to live around writers.

SN: I feel like all of my ideas, they are fiction for sure. There are definitely elements that get pulled from your own life and from other people's lives. I feel like I cloak things in enough fiction. I come from a family of divorced parents, step-siblings, half siblings, re-marriages, but I don't think anyone would think I was writing specifically about my family.

SJ: With fiction, your own experiences just end up on the page and, often, you won't be aware of it until sometime later. There are things in my books where I look back and I had thought I was just having a wonderful burst of imagination, but a year later I'll realize, "My goodness, that was completely based on something that happened to me."

SN: That happened to me when I was working on We Are All Made of Molecules. A big creepy event in the book — I didn't realize until after I was done the manuscript — but something really similar had happened to me when I was 13. I had no idea when I was writing the book.


SJ: I think we're in the middle of an amazing renaissance of young adult literature. Writers are taking every kind of chance there is. If you want to see some of the most interesting things being done in fiction writing, go to the Young Adult shelves. There's all kinds of dynamite there.

SN: It's true. I think it's changed even since I published Word Nerd in 2008. Suddenly, there became a much bigger hunger for contemporary young adult fiction.

SJ: That's partly the John Green effect. John Green has made it safe to be a contemporary, realist, young adult writer.

SN: We thank him for it.

Susan Juby and Susin Nielsen's comments have been edited and condensed.