4 YA Books About Struggles in Creativity

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Creativity in Corona

While we’re all still in various degrees of quarantine (I hope more rather than less, based on the numbers), many people are dipping their toes into book writing. Literary agents have seen an uptick in their inboxes for this exact reason. While I have also started taking writing classes and working on more projects during the coronavirus isolation times, it has been difficult for me to push through and finish anything. Consequently, I’ve been reading more about artistic and creative processes in general. For writing, I recently read That Crafty Feeling, the iconic lecture by Zadie Smith, and it was a great help. She perfectly laid out the many different ways one can do writing and deal with struggles in creativity. One thing is certain—it takes a much longer time than a few months.

Creation right now feels like a mandatory output as opposed to a strike of inspiration. Since we have all this free time, we should be writing and learning and drawing or whatever else! That is not really true—we’re all stuck in the same highly stressful situation that restricts our ability to devote relaxed brainspace to creativity. Nonfiction about creativity and giving yourself some time has been extremely helpful in 2020 as well.

I also hugely enjoy fiction about struggles in creativity because it feels like the author is dramatizing their own concerns about creating and the expectations of community. Writing, and creating in general, can be as wonderful as it is frustrating and scary. Young adult books about creativity also tend to deal with the explosive emotions of teenagerhood that can drive a character forward or cause them to come to a screeching halt. None of these books is only about the artistic struggles of the protagonist, but I see that theme linking them together because that’s what I’m thinking about right now. This assemblage is a matter of subjectivity, but I’m always looking for books about young artists.

All Kinds of Creative

Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian

Part of the reason this book feels so resonant right now is because of the connections some of us may feel between the COVID-19 crisis and the AIDS crisis. Told in three perspectives, we follow Reza, Judy, and Art navigating the intense moment of the late 1980s in New York City. Two of the three POV characters are artists: Judy is a fashion designer and Art is a photographer. Their creative outlets become incredibly important for processing the crisis and expressing themselves in a world that wants to crush expressions of difference and especially queerness. Art uses his photography to document and rebel against his conservative parents, while Judy uses fashion to express herself. Reza is drawn into their orbit, unable to admit his identity out loud because it is so inexorably tied to death and pain. The art they make and that surrounds them is nourishing and act as calls to action.

Eliza and Her Monsters cover

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Although Eliza Mirk seems shy and weird, she is a successful webcomic creator hiding in plain sight from her classmates and her family. She also tends dutifully to the online fandom for her webcomic, Monstrous Sea—it’s good that she isn’t as isolated as she appears outside of the Internet, but as soon as this was established as a plot point, I got worried about the expectations of a fandom with a responsive author and how they would deal with any struggles in creativity she encountered. Eliza begins to slow down a little in her output of pages of her webcomic when she meets and falls for a Monstrous Sea fan, Wallace, who recently started at her school. The moment where it all becomes too much and she’s unsure if she can finish the comic is very well done in this book. There’s also an interesting commentary on the availability expected of authors who have big fanbases and what the duties of the author and the fandom are in that situation.

with the fire on high cover

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Following up on her award-winning debut, this second novel from Elizabeth Acevedo proves her continued mastery. This is an amazing book to read right now if you are extremely tired of cooking for yourself every night and need to reconnect to the joy. Emoni Santiago is an extremely talented cook who cares for her young daughter and lives with her grandmother Gloria. Acevedo’s prose is so strong that you feel like you can taste the food through her descriptions. Food is an important creative practice—the reason Emoni’s food is so good is because she spins it with her knowledge of her own culture and her spin on it. Although Emoni has so many responsibilities, she still wants to improve her craft through culinary classes and her school’s trip to Spain. From a craft perspective, this is an exceedingly well-written book, and following Emoni’s journey is a hugely joyful reading experience.

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

Retelling the Cinderella story could be its own publishing category at this point, but this fun fandom take does offer an interesting perspective. The prince is especially a much more interesting character here—Darien is a caring, invested actor trying to do right by a franchise he loves. Although blockbuster movies and hearing actors talk about what it’s like to film them are old hat at this point, Darien’s worries about his own acting ability and respect for the Starfield franchise paint a tender picture of creative struggle. At the same time, Elle is a steward of the fandom, the daughter of the founder of ExcelsiCon (serving as the Ball in this retelling). Her writing as a fan displays the intense personal relationship many of have to art and stories—it’s hard to watch other people, who aren’t the originals, take over one of your favorite stories. On the lighter side, the discussions of costumes and cosplay remind me of the fun of cons and make an avid con-goer hopeful for the future.

Getting the Juices Flowing

I’m clearly in a YA groove right now. This is not entirely different from other difficult periods in my life because young adult books are comforting. Pandemic books have their place as well for processing everything. Reading helps me start writing and sparks creative interest in my brain, even if it’s just to put together another list for Book Riot (which I love to do). If I’m having trouble on a writing project, I always pick up another book to remind myself why writing can be a struggle but ultimately rewarding. Whether it’s books, comics, crafting, or unboxing videos, I hope there’s something that sparks your creative brain.