Oh, the judgment.
It’s hard being a grown-up and loving young adult fiction. Indeed, just last week we were reminded (yet again) that some people strongly believe young adult books are poorly written, simplistic, unworthy of serious discussion, and suitable only for females in their teenage years. We’ve already shared our thoughts on the offending article in question, but we thought now would be the perfect time to discuss young adult as part of our ongoing series explaining and introducing the genres we cover.
Because Young Adult Novels Address Issues that Affect Adults
Do you want to read a novel where a character has to struggle with death and loss? Pick up The Fault in our Stars. Do you want to read a novel where a character has to protect her family? Try The Hunger Games. How about a book where the main character feel like she doesn't fit in? Maybe Eleanor and Park is for you. Or maybe you’re looking for a critique of modern society? Well, you should try Feed.
These young adult novels are RIDICULOUSLY popular for a reason. They put a laser focus on issues of life and love because young adult novels are all about the feels. The characters struggle with the same struggles that their adult counterparts struggle with. It’s just that sometimes they struggle with them in a more self-centered, over-the-top kind of way. Maybe some of them don’t have the same level of nuance you would find in an adult novel—but they do make you feel something.
As an adult, you’re allowed to see the beauty in teenagers acting in innocent and unguarded ways as they navigate through life dealing with the same complex issues that plague adults. And, hopefully, reading these novels will give you a new perspective—one that is unburdened by all of the knowledge and insecurities that come with being an adult.
Because They Allow You to Connect With the Children in Your Life
I’m going to use Twilight as an example. It’s no secret that Bella Swan is not a great female role model: she cooks and cleans for her father, who seems incapable of caring for himself; she lets Edward control her in the name of her “safety”; she gives up her friends and family for a boy; and she pretty much falls to the ground and gives up when Edward tries to break up with her. I get it; I know. I read these books when I was twenty, and I was able to see that she was a terrible role model. Despite all of that, I enjoyed them and read the crap out of them. As an adult, I was able to separate my enjoyment of the books from my ideas on how women should behave.
I understand why certain parents may not want their sixteen-year-old daughters to read these books. Can a sixteen-year-old understand why Bella isn’t a good role model? Maybe not on her own. But how nice would it be if you, as a parent, could read the book with your child and use it as a teaching moment? You can show your child that it is okay to like a book and not want to be like the main character. Enjoyment doesn’t have to lead to emulation.
Reading the same books as your children or children in your life can lead to many great teachable and bonding moments if you let it. But you have to read the book first.
Because They Demand Your Attention
Many popular young adult novels—and their corresponding book-to-movie adaptions—are enormous pop-culture phenomenons. If you want to be current on pop-culture, whether to bond with the youngsters or to understand current trends, you need to be up-to-date on YA.
From best-selling young adult novels come big Hollywood blockbusters. Although young adult book sales are down for now, young adult book to movie adaptions are still being made at a lightning fast pace, and you certainly can’t deny the genre’s monetary success stories. J.K. Rowling became the first billionaire author thanks to Harry Potter (we can quibble over whether Harry Potter is young adult or middle grade, but it’s certainly not “adult”). The Twilight books had over $1.5 BILLION in sales as of 2013. And despite the fact that the Twilight movies were (objectively) awful, the final one still made over $141.3 million its opening weekend, with the series as a whole generating over $2.5 billion worldwide. Divergent, the most recent young adult book to movie adaption, made nearly $100 million in its first two weeks at the box office, while its book counterpart has enjoyed weeks at the top of the bestsellers lists.
Many of the most recent adaptions have been spectacular failures, but adaptions are still being made at a rapid pace. This year alone you can see the adaption of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, and Lois Lowry’s The Giver. Hollywood is actively looking for the next Twilight.
What does all this mean? Well, if you’re looking for the next big cultural phenomenon at your local book store, you should probably walk yourself right to the young adult section.
Because They are Fun. And Reading Should be Fun.
No one ever suggests that I only watch movies or TV shows that expand my horizons. In fact, no one bats an eye when I say I will spend my free time playing a video game. But, for some reason, people don’t think it’s okay for me to read a young adult book in my free time. It’s as if, somewhere along the way, people decided that reading wasn’t meant to be a fun, free-time activity.
That’s the thing about young adult novels—they are fun. The audience is passionate. Many of them live for the fandom. It’s fun to go to midnight release parties. It’s fun when your favorite fandom is trending on Twitter. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it’s fun to let your hair down and just be passionate about something—anything.
I read for fun. I read because I want to. And that’s okay
Alyssa Rosenberg at the Washington Post makes the point that telling people what they should and shouldn’t read is far more adolescent than many themes found in young adult novels.
Julianne Ross over at PolicyMic offers a feminist perspective on why YA is important, pointing out that the genre is largely defined by female-oriented books.
Rachel Carter explains why she reads and writes young adult over at New Republic, highlighting the complexity and diversity of the genre.
Lauren Davis discuss genre-shaming generally for io9.
Flavorwire published a wonderful piece by Elisabeth Donnelly arguing that you shouldn’t be ashamed of reading any book that stimulates your curiosity and explores the human condition, regardless of the genre.
Even CNN got in on the action with a piece by Kat Kinsman explaining how far being embarrassed about her reading choices got her in life.
Just for fun: a hilarious list of reading material for those ashamed of reading YA courtesy of Jude Terror at The Outhouseres.
J.K. Rowling, The Harry Potter Series
Megan McCafferty, Sloppy Firsts (The Jessica Darling Series)
E. Lockhart, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
John Green, An Abundance of Katherines
Garth Nix, Sabriel (Abhorsen Series)
Robin McKinley, The Blue Sword
Rick Riordan, The Heroes of Olympus Series andThe Percy Jackson Series
Georgia Nicolson, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson Series)
Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games Series
Richelle Mead, Vampire Academy Series
Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game