It’s the debate that everyone in the book world is talking about at the moment. From book bloggers to journalists, parents to young adults themselves – everyone seems to have an opinion on who should be reading young adult literature and why…including me.
Though I’m sure there are a thousand other blogs writing on the same topic as I type this, it’s a subject I wanted to give my two cents to.
Growing up, I was always a big reader. Even when I became a teenager and chatting on MSN to my friends all night took precedent over every other after-school activity. However, when I was a little older and heading into sixth form, there was a significant dip in my reading habits that didn’t properly recover until I was in my early twenties.
I studied English at Uni so, of course, there was some reading involved, but reading for fun simply wasn’t on my agenda any more. For this reason, I feel that I missed out on so much literature that was aimed at my age group – young adult.
By the time I came back around to reading for the fun of it, I held back from young adult books for the simple reason that everywhere I turned, it seemed that I was now expected to read ‘adult’ books; great works of literature, crime thrillers, books with violence and smut in equal measure. As much as I loved all of those, I’d always loved fantasy and adventure most, but when I talked about these genres and stories to teachers, colleagues, and even friends I was often laughed at, patronised and belittled.
I remember one day I was reading Terry Pratchett on my lunch break at work at a colleague asked what I was reading, then grimaced and said “my grandson reads that”. I felt embarrassed like someone studying for their MA in Creative Writing shouldn’t be reading ‘a book like that’. Of course, now I know that’s a completely ridiculous attitude albeit a prevalent one.
Even as a writer, I favour urban fantasy fiction that leans towards a YA audience and (thankfully not during my MA) have often not been taken seriously (or AS seriously) when compared with writers who don’t, leading me for years after to very often struggle to smush adult themes into what I really wanted to write. For that reason I was never happy with what I produced and drifted away from prose for a long time.
As a fully fledged adult with a proper job and a mortgage, I’ve now made a return to both reading and writing young adult fiction which in recent years has grown in popularity so much that it’s almost transformed from a demographic into a genre in its own right.
The main criticism from journalists of late (we know the ones, and if you don’t just google young adult – you’ll see ’em) seems to be that YA is encouraging the ‘light read’ that doesn’t properly educate or inspire younger audiences and certainly shouldn’t be found entertaining by adults who should have moved on to ‘greater things’ To those people I address the following points:
- It is of no importance to you what another person reads
- It is of no importance to you what another person reads.
- YA famously tackles tough issues, which can be essential to the growth and even survival of a younger audience* struggling with similar issues. Your elitist opinions cannot and must not take that away from them.
- YA can be FUN. Let’s not forget that we read fiction for entertainment, not bragging rights.
- It has a thriving community of strong minded, independent thinkers, readers, writers and bloggers waiting to welcome you to their discussions about YA, and what it means to you as a young adult or otherwise.
*It must be said at this point that while it is often intended to educate and provide role models and support for young adults, all people can learn and benefit from YA in the same way. Personally, I’ve found that reading YA at my age allows me to look back on my teen and young adult life with a fresh perspective, offering not only nostalgia but a sense of closure and moving on from tougher times. You never stop learning, and you’re never too old to try.
Is YA flawed sometimes? Yes. But so is all literature. Every genre, every piece of demographic targeted fiction has and always will have terrible writers that overplay tropes and pretend diversity doesn’t exist and so on. It’s not a criticism exclusive to any one genre or intended audience.
Not everyone who doesn’t like YA is a snob, whatever the recent articles may lead us to believe, but I feel like it’s a misunderstood section of the book world. Not many people realise that some of their favourite books/movies/fanbases are in fact young adult – do you like Harry Potter? Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist? The Lovely Bones? The Book Thief? The Fault In Our Stars? To Kill A Mockingbird? I Know What You Did Last Summer? All young adult reads that went on to be some of the best loved books and movies not only by a young but also an adult audience.
If you can’t admit that you quite like at least one of those well into your twenties and beyond, fine, but it’s about appreciating that many people do and they’re well within their rights to do so without someone looking down at them for it. Who cares if you’re reading War and Peace and the person next to you is reading The Hunger Games? In the age of Netflix and augmented reality, shouldn’t we just be grateful that people are still enjoying reading at all?