When I attended a seminar for writers of young adult (YA) books, the speakers were all writing fantasy works. Nobody seemed to be creating realistic young adult novels. There should be room for mine, right? Maybe not.
When I coached teams of graded school-aged children for Odyssey of the Mind and Destination Imagination, I learned about imagination in the psyche of the preadolescent child. Some children wanted to be conformists and preferred not to suggest ideas that were not familiar. It was more important that their idea was acceptable to the majority of their peers. Other children would come up with “crazy” ideas. They would have to sort through all the bizarre, unworkable variations to find some that would work.
Writing with a dose of fantasy and science fiction woven into a familiar plot is closer to the tastes of the first group. It fits into their view of what a story should be. Students who are very conscious of what their peers think, prefer what their peers prefer. In movies this is currently superheroes, and in books this is fantasy, tales of the wizard or magical creature. They have a feel of familiarity, the echo of frequently repeated fairy tales. The villain is not even human most of the time. So, there is no need to fear that this story will reflect some tragedy that may occur to them in real life.
The magic school setting is an example of a YA fantasy theme that keeps appearing. It does not require a terribly sophisticated audience and uses the real world situation of a group of students that attend a boarding school together (at least the real world situation for upper class youth). Insert a bit of magic into this real world setting and voila, the author has eliminated the need for most of the boring world building. The storytelling can begin almost instantly. If the plot begins to drag, just inject a new magical peril, like a troll or a dragon from a fairytale.
This kind of writing still takes some creativity, but it is kept in check because young readers may shy away from excessive creativity. That may be why fantasy is often looked down on by adults as something below them when it comes to choosing novels. Perhaps it is time for both YA and fantasy authors to come up with “crazy” ideas, and struggle to sort through all the bizarre, unworkable variations until they find some that will work.