Jennifer M. Hartsock: Humanizing YA Literature

Just shy of 21, Jennifer Hartsock proves that you don’t have to wait until you’re older to know what you want. Her zeal for writing has opened doors to multiple opportunities, including an internship with a literary magazine, a position as a writing tutor and the role of Opinion Editor for her college newspaper. All of those are just stepping stones, though. Experience which will aid her in achieving an even higher goal: a career as a literary agent.

Like many writers, Hartsock discovered her love for prose at a young age.

“[When I was younger] I loved creating stories, even if no one ever read them,” she said.

Despite her early gravitation toward literature, Hartsock hadn’t considered a career in the field until after her freshman year of college. She originally started as a business major, intent on starting a bridal business. But she soon learned that field just wasn’t for her.

“It was a very difficult and stressful time. After struggling through several business classes, I talked with my boyfriend’s brother-in-law who asked, ‘Why are you getting a degree in something you obviously can’t do or like? Do what you love, forget about the job opportunities or the paycheck.’ So I did.”

It was a positive transition. As Hartsock expands her experience to include journalism, blogging, novel writing and editing, the doors of opportunity are swinging ever wider.

“Things are working out,” she said, “which shows me that I’m doing the right thing. I’m so much happier now.”

Hartsock is currently working on honing and pitching her first novel, Battleground, a YA novel that isn’t your every day escape-from-reality fiction book. Loosely based on a rocky friendship she sparked in high school, it tells the story of Lilly’s relationship with a boy who could see past the masks people wear in society and unveil truth behind them (including Lilly’s own façade). After the two form an intriguing, if not destructive, relationship, Lilly embarks on a wrestling journey to rediscover faith, love and identity for herself.

“Battleground is a heavy book, full of controversial subject matter,” Hartsock admits. “It throws reality right into your face instead of offering a storyline for you to escape life.”

Although the characters, events and certain dialogue were influenced by real people, Battleground is not an autobiography. Instead, the characters take on their own identities as they experience the real, and sometimes harsh, reality of life and growing up.

Hartsock’s pull to write a more serious book stemmed from her own hunger for realistic fiction as a youth. YA seemed to lack the very thing she sought at a teenager: stories about people her own age that could challenge her and bring to light something real; something useful that she could believe in.

“I was always a thinker,” she said, “and wanted guidance in learning new ways of the world. I could never find YA novels that fit my needs, and decided that I should write something that I would’ve wanted to read at that age.”

Battleground  is an ideal representation of that sort of book.

“I have written a novel that offers a taste of how to create beauty from rot, and understand this beauty for what it is: love.”

Jennifer Hartsock is not the only one in her family who feels drawn to the pen. Her mother, Dianne Hartsock, recently published a modern fantasy novel titled Alex. Sharing the trade with her mother has only been an inspiration to the young, aspiring writer. Together, mother and daughter help edit each other’s work and encourage one another in the arduous journey to authorship.

“My mother has worked a long time for publication,” she explained. “Her publication of Alex has affected me because I know how hard it is to put your writing out there and be denied. I know how hard it is to rewrite queries and synopses and each time they still don’t do the trick. I am incredibly happy for her, and know that my day will come.”

Hartsock is as much a reader as she is a writer. A proclaimed fan of several authors, including Allen Ginsberg, Sherwood Anderson, Tim O’Brien and Charles Baxter, she prefers true-to-life novels over any other genre.

“I’m currently reading Chuck Palahniuk, and he is dark,” said Hartsock.In a way, sometimes I do read to escape. But instead of fantasy or romance, I like dark and disturbing. Not gory or crude, but just different. His novels are very different, but very good.”

Of course, there are her favorites. Peace Life a River by Leif Enger left an impact on Hartsock after reading it for an assignment in her Intro to Fiction course. She recalls how his characters stuck with her.

“My favorite character from this novel is Swede Land, the nine-year-old sister of the narrator. She is a lover of the Old West, an imaginative writer, and poet… Really, I love all three main characters: Reuben Land, his father Jeremiah who is a man of faith, and his sister, Swede. It is an incredible book.”

What brings life to Hartsock’s writing is her benevolent heart. Inspired by the greater good in life and in people, she seeks to introduce young folk to a new type of YA literature; one that instead of avoiding reality, draws them even deeper into their own existence.

“I think it’s important for young people to question,” she admits. “I believe that we are supposed to have doubts about things and tons of questions. The way we are made is the way we are supposed to be. The quest for knowledge is important, and I hope that young people never stop asking questions. Sometimes the more you learn the more you realize how little you know. This is good and okay. I hope that Battleground can offer young readers and older readers a taste of something they haven’t found in YA before.”

To learn more about Jennifer Hartsock, visit her blog at

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