Christmas is over and, to me, that means it’s time to spend all my gift cards. This year I asked for some Amazon gift cards so I could get books and I spent all but $0.20 within the hour. Most of the books I got were Young Adult books. Not really a surprise to most of my family and close friends who know about my preference for YA—they understand that I love it. When I go book shopping with friends they know that I plan to head straight for the teen section. And it is marvelous, but occasionally I get funny looks while I’m scoping out all the new releases in the teen section of my local Barnes & Noble. In the past, especially in college, I have felt the need to defend my tastes. I want you to know this is not an article about how YA books are better than classics. I’ve read and loved and hated as many classics as YA books, but I would like more people to understand why I feel that recent releases, especially YA, have something (maybe more) to offer than a Shakespeare play.
YA fiction is also known as juvenile fiction, probably why some people over the age of 18 turn their noses up at it. The problem with the qualifier “young adult” is that it makes it seem like it’s meant for people aged 13–25, but most bookstores and publishing companies qualify YA books as fiction written, published, or marketed to adolescents/young adults. The American Library Association defines a young adult as someone between the ages of twelve and eighteen. Authors tend to define it as meant for sixteen to twenty-five. I know that I am certainly not a teen anymore, but I don’t really consider myself an adult.
As an English major I spent a lot of my time with people who preferred Dickens and Doyle to Gaiman and Green. Although you would be hard pressed to find anyone who never read Harry Potter, those were excused because we started them as children. I have spent a lot of time trying to explain what it is about YA that I enjoy so much, and to do that you first must understand what makes a YA book YA. Here are a few:
1) Young Adult is not a genre. Let me repeat that in case you missed it. YA is NOT a genre. It is a proposed age range, and therefore not everything in a young adult genre is fit for every young adult. There are plenty of adult books I do not want to read even though I’m 23 (and I guess that technically makes me an adult). YA books cover many genres from the widely popular dystopian and paranormal stories to mysteries and romance novels. It covers the whole forest of topics not just the really popular ones at the watering hole.
2) The list of things that place books in the YA category are as contradictory as the age group they are meant for. They are stories told from first person teen perspectives. Teens sound like adults-because adults are writing them—but they must always act like teens (because teens are the ones reading them).
Author Chuck Wendig wrote an article, “25 Things You Should Know About Young Adult Fiction.” As a YA author, Wendig has a unique perspective. He expects that teens will read YA books, he says that is essential to writing a book for teens. You have to write to them, to their problems, to the way they speak, and write stories that they will know were written for them. Most YA authors know how crucial this is, but it is important to believe that it’s not just hormonal teens reading their books.
The most important qualification I took away from his article was that to write you must read it, and if you’re reading this article you either like it or you want to understand why anyone else does. I know everybody doesn’t like it, and I’m okay with that. I understand that you like what you like, as long as it’s OK for me to like what I like. I hate feeling like I have to defend the book I am reading. It is no less intelligent than “Gone Girl” or whatever is the newest best-seller. I like that I can pass on the books I’m reading to (some) friends, my sister, or my mom and we can have discussions about how the book reminds me of when I was younger or how I’m 23, but I’ve still never experienced something like that.
“Children’s and YA books are about being brave and kind, about learning wisdom and love, about that journey into and through maturity that we all keep starting, and starting again, no matter how old we get. I think that’s why so many adults read YA: we’re never done coming of age.” -Betsy Cornwell, interview in Uncommon YA.
I’m a twenty-something, and as Buffy said, “I’m not done baking.” I’m still determining my opinion about things, and I’m not completely set in my ways. I don’t think there will ever come a time when I feel like I’ve arrived and I know everything (although I’d like to think I do). As a twenty-something I find that reading YA is NOT something that reminds me of “the good old days.” I doubt anyone who reads “The Hunger Games” wants to be Katniss Everdeen, but we do relate to her because we want to think we could be that strong (or that good at archery). I read YA because I like it. I wish there was some grand explanation (and I’ve tried to create one), but mostly I just like the stories and the characters. I want to go to exotic places and do incredible things, and sometimes I think the only way that will happen, for me, is vicariously through my favorite stories.
What are some of your favorite YA books? Tweet us @litdarling.