Distance in YA: Where Things Come Back

From YARN’s interview with John Corey Whaley, author of this year’s Printz winner, Where Things Come Back:

YARN:  WTCB has a retrospective feel, with Cullen looking back on the way he felt “back then.”  Can you shed any light on how old you imagined the narrator being at the time he tells this story?  And also—this is an unusual choice for YA fiction, which is so often told in the immediate here-and-now of the teen’s life.  Why did you choose this more distant and—dare we say—more adult form of narration?

JCW: Great question…and a tough one. I can’t say I set out to write from a specifically “adult” perspective, but that’s just sort of what happened. I guess I wanted to be able to include observations on life and details in the story that couldn’t have worked out if Cullen had been telling it in the present tense. As far as how old I imagined Cullen as he’s telling the story goes—I can’t really say. I want to say he’s at least out of high school, but I don’t really examine the character’s “life after the book” so much.

Really interested to see this. The question of narrative distance is huge in discussions about how YA novels differentiate from adult novels. Really glad to see Whaley talk about perspective and time in WTCB, and that he didn’t limit himself to the here and now. I think it’s a great example of you can break pretty much every rule in YA. It doesn’t need to be from an intensely immediate perspective. I recently read WTCB, and I think giving Cullen that little bit of distance was a huge help to the narrative.

Make sure to check out the whole interview through the link.

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