YA is one of the brightest stars of the publishing world. From relative obscurity a few years ago, it has literally exploded. Today YA fiction has its own section in libraries and book-shops, its titles regularly appear on the New York Times bestseller list and it has inspired legions of teens – and adults – to start reading again. And yet, in spite of this, there are still people out there who sneer at and mock YA fiction. There is still a very ugly attitude revolving around these sorts of books, the notion that because they are not considered ‘serious literature’ they are worthless.
You’ll have to excuse me a moment while I seethe with anger.
Who decided that ‘serious literature’ was the only thing in the world worth reading? Who decided that anything that doesn’t fall into that category is somehow inferior? YA fiction has struck a chord with a huge number of people and it’s not hard to see why.
Being a teenager/young adult can be a confusing time. Many teens feel ostracised or misunderstood. They’re too old for childishness but not old enough for the reality of adulthood. They don’t know what it’s like to have kids of their own, to worry about paying the bills, or the stress of being unhappy in a job. But they do know what it’s like to struggle to fit in, to be bullied at school, to worry about having to change themselves to fit a current trend or fashion, to put up with the sheer frustration of lingering on that uncertain threshold between child and adult.
YA fiction is something they can call their own. The teenage characters are often more relatable than adult characters, and they frequently struggle through the same sorts of problems as their young adult readers. Today’s teens might not know what it’s like to fall in love with a vampire, but they do know what it’s like to experience love for the first time. They might not know what it’s like to offer up their lives to save their younger sibling but they know what it’s like to start making difficult decisions and facing the consequences of those decisions. The struggles that characters face in YA fiction are frequently fantastical but that doesn’t mean they can’t be applied to the real world.
But it’s not only teens who are reading YA fiction. According to Publishers Weekly, a 2012 study revealed that 55% of YA readership are actually adults. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t.
So why are adults so enamoured of something that is, ostensibly, aimed at younger readers? Aside from the obvious – lots of YA is creative, well-written, and entertaining – it brings adults back to a time that many of us have forgotten. It’s easy to get caught up with work and paying bills and raising kids, and before we know it we’ve forgotten what it was to be a teenager. We frown on kids doing the exact same things we did at that age, we fret about keeping our offspring from repeating our mistakes, and we simply forget the turmoil that so often comes with adolescence.
YA reminds us what it was like to be that age, when some of our most pressing concerns were whether or not a boy liked us, or if we were fitting in with the latest trend. It lets us experience that all over again, that giddy, butterflies-in-the-stomach sensation of first love, the nervous excitement of a much-dreamed-about kiss, the frustration with parents laying down the law, all the trials and tribulations of our school days.
C.S Lewis once said, ‘No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.’
And he’s completely right. How many of us sat through boring lessons and dreamed about going through a wardrobe into a land of talking animals, falling down a magical rabbit hole, or flying second star to the right, straight on till morning? A good story is a good story, regardless of who it’s marketed to. It’s true that there is a lot of truly terrible YA fiction out there but you know what? There’s a lot of truly terrible adult fiction too. The age range of the intended readership is not an automatic indicator of quality.
Worst of all is the book-snob attitude that adults who read YA fiction are somehow less intelligent than those who read adult or classic fiction. I’ve read Dickens and Shakespeare, Homer and Virgil. I devoured J.M.Barrie, Robert Louis Stevenson, Frances Hodgson Burnett, C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll. Georgette Heyer was one of my favourite authors when I was a kid. I’ve read Plato’s Apologia and the Symposium. I also devoured The Hunger Games. I’m not claiming I’m the brightest bunny in the world but my mental faculties haven’t somehow diminished because I enjoy reading YA.
In an age where technology pervades almost every aspect of our lives, we should celebrate that reading prevails, whether not the book in question is Harry Potter or Ulysses.
You can find Bella over at Writers Ramblings where she rambles about writing (you don’t say?) – check it out!