In Defense of YA

There have been a couple of articles published this year that condemn adult readers who read YA. As an avid reader and writer of YA, this totally bothered me. One writer argued that YA should be left to the young adults and that adults should concentrate on serious literature. I strongly disagree. First of all, I’m pretty sure the writer of the article hasn’t read any YA. I don’t read exclusively YA, but I read a great deal of it. YA writers are breaking “rules” and experimenting all over the place. Adult fiction, literary in particular, is safe. There are a few rule-breakers out there but there is more experimentation with format, turning tired tropes on their ear, and unreliable narrators (my favorite) by YA writers.

YA literature is serious literature. Yes, there are fluffy romances (which I love) and poorly written books (the same is true of adult literature), but some exciting stuff is happening in the YA world. It could be argued that YA writers are the biggest risk takers in fiction today. They refuse to follow all the rules and the results are spectacular. So if your only experience with YA is Twilight, I strongly encourage you to try again. Disclaimer: I read all four books in the Twilight series and found the story engrossing enough that I was able to overlook many of the flaws. Oh and Stephenie Meyer made a ton of money and launched a career as a movie producer so I have some mad respect for this stay-at-home mom who wrote while covered in children. I also write while covered in children but I’m still waiting for my millions.

The successful authors are the ones that can access the darkness and confusion of adolescence. This authenticity is important. The average YA reader of YA age, wants to be moved, not taught a lesson. Over and over, the question of sex, violence, drinking and drug use comes up. How much is too much? Is it appropriate at all? Parents get up in arms about this and there is talk of a rating system (bad idea, IMO) but the truth is, reading about sex and drugs doesn’t mean the reader will go out and try it. In fact, reading about it may be enough to satisfy the young reader’s curiosity. I don’t know of any books that glamorize drugs or drinking. They may not demonize them but just treat them as part of the teenage experience, which they are. Young adults do not want to be preached at and books with “lessons” are going to fail every time. Judy Blume’s Forever, one of the first and greatest YA books, deals with the issues realistically without being preachy. No one dies from having sex in her books but the emotional gravity is dealt with seriously. Judy Blume is my hero and certainly knocked down doors in both YA and children’s fiction with her honesty. That’s why her books will never go out of print.

An exciting thing is happening in the YA world. Book reviewers, bloggers, agents, and publishers are all actively seeking books with diversity. This doesn’t just refer to race but sexual orientation, socio-economic status, and more. There is a movement that picked up a lot of steam in 2014. #WeNeedDiverseBooks has become something of a mantra this year and overwhelmingly, agents and publishers are seeking books with diverse characters and settings that don’t make their diversity an issue.

Here are a few of my favorite YA authors:

John Green. I confess, I am a Nerdfighter. I’ve read and cried over all of his books. His writing is beautiful, literary, and insightful. There’s a reason The Fault in Our Stars is so huge. Two more of his books have been optioned and Paper Towns is filming right this minute.

Ransom Riggs. First of all, what a great name!! Ransom wrote Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and its follow-up, Hollow City. There will be a third book in the series and I’m pretty excited about it. Oh and aside from being one of the most interesting voices in YA right now, he is pretty innovative. His books were inspired by strange old photographs which are peppered throughout the books. I promise you won’t be able to get these books out of your head. He is married (adorably) to a fellow YA author, Tahereh Mafi. She wrote the fantastic Shatter Me series. She carried a bouquet made from his book at their wedding which is totally off-topic and totally romantic.
Maureen Johnson. Maureen is one of those people that everyone wants to be best friends with because of her total awesomeness. Her Shades of London series starts out with a ghostly and grisly Jack the Ripper mystery and takes the reader to places they truly didn’t expect. I’m anxiously awaiting the third book in the series.

Jandy Nelson. Her work slays me every time. She is a master of the metaphor and I loved her debut The Sky is Everywhere so much that as soon as I finished it, I flipped back to page one and read it again. Her second book, I’ll Give You the Sun is equally beautiful.

Rainbow Rowell. I am a major fangirl over Rainbow Rowell. She writes both adult and YA fiction and she’s a genius. Eleanor and Park. Just read it. Fangirl, a YA/adult crossover (which has also been classified as NA) is a total delight.

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One comment on “In Defense of YA

  1. Personally, I think anyone who is a fan of literature should be rejoicing that the YA genre has added so many enthusastic adult readers to the world. I can not tell you how many times I’ve heard the sad words “I hate to read” from an adult. If YA gets them to open the pages of a book, and ideally broaden their minds (thusly bettering themselves as people) we should ALL be singing the praises of such a genre.

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