There's one thing YA writers have to know when writing to and about teenagers:
Most of us don't know what the hell is going on. Like, ever.
Teenagerdom is a paradox. It's a series of life crises. It's a transition period and a conclusion, a journey and a destination, a time to be stupid and a time to grow up. One moment your life was made of happily-ever-afters; the next, everything is about is puberty and cynicism and sex ed, and in the middle of a world that's trying to fall back into place, you realize that
Do you go to church because you want to, or because you always have? Do you know what it means to be a Republican or a Democrat or a Libertarian or a Bull Moose Partier, or do you call yourself one because that's what your parents are? Suddenly, you're realizing that life isn't simple at all, and the truth is about as hard to define as it is to find, and good and evil such stupid terms, because the world isn't black and white, or even gray--it's made of colors and differences and shifting.
And personalities? We have personalites--we just don't know what they are yet. Our likes and dislikes are so different from what they were a year, a month, a week ago. "Impressionable" is an understatement; sponge might be more fitting--we swallow information, habits, desires, and make them our own, unconsciously. We talk, dress, and act like our friends or our role models, but we never decided to do so. We're basically ruled by hormones. We want to fit in, but suddenly fitting in isn't cool anymore--but if hipster is mainstream, then isn't old-mainstream hipster? Conformity is out, but does originality exist? If we're defined by our interactions, and if everything we've ever created is no more than an enormous collage of our conversations and experiences and mistakes, then is there really such a thing as an original thought?
It's all very confusing, you see.
This. This is what it means to be a young adult. The thing is, we're afraid. We're uncertain. We doubt our abilites and our beliefs and our values and pretty much everything else, but we can't show it because we're teenagers, and society expects us to be careless and irresponsible and...young. And this is also why there are so many YA books out there. Teenagerdom is an incredibly dynamic time, brim-full of the angst that readers hunger for. But it's also a time that we desperately need to read books and realize that we're not alone. That we don't have to be alone.
And lastly, this is why well-developed characters are so vital to YA. We need to know that everyone else is struggling, too, and that they're wading through a tide of influences to try to find themselves. Those pretty, perfect, self-assured ones? They make us feel like misfits. Like failures.
We're not failures. We're wanderers. We're trying. Please remember that. And please write characters that help us remember, too.