This is an issue that’s been cropping up a lot recently—it was brought to my attention last year, mostly, in one of my classes, but now I’m seeing it a lot more often. A relatively new genre, Young Adult Fiction, has emerged in the literary world, and I’ve heard countless voices condemning it or, worse, dismissing it. I realize that there is a debate as to whether or not YA is actually considered a genre, but, for the purposes of this argument, I will be referencing it as such.
First, maybe I should explain why this is relevant to me. I have always subconsciously written YA fiction without understanding what that meant, but last year I solidified my intent through one of my classes: Reading and Writing Young Adult Fiction. A few weeks into the class, with the encouragement of my professor, I had an epiphany. Now I am proud to call myself a YA writer, and I’ve found that I have a lot more focus in my work with that knowledge.
That class taught me a lot about the genre (partly because my professor was so unashamedly enthusiastic about it), but, more importantly, it showed me that it was okay to read and write these books. I’ll openly admit that I would much rather pick up a book from the Teen section of the library than the Fiction section. Even as I leave my teenage years behind, I find so much more enjoyment in those books. I was afraid to admit that for a long time because of how judged I felt.
Which brings me to the point: people don’t appreciate YA fiction.
In fact, in many cases, people actively look down on YA fiction.
I can see where they’re coming from—after all, those books are written for teens, and thus should only be read by teens. Right?
This is where people start generalizing. They see books like Twilight and The Vampire Academy and think that all YA books automatically fall into the pile of “poorly-written” and “unimaginative” and “false.”
I take that argument and I raise you The Book Thief. Legend. Harry Potter. Sabriel. Looking for Alaska. The Hobbit.
Sure, there are bad YA books, but there are also some pretty crappy adult books. The difference? You don’t see the entire adult fiction genre tainted by the selection of mediocre/trashy novels.
YA fiction is important. Look back at Weetzie Bat and you’ll find the essence of the genre as a method of teaching. In most of these books, the problems the characters face are very real and very relatable, and the lessons contained within the bindings extend far beyond the teenage years. That is why these books are not only essential, but enduring. That’s why adults keep reading YA, because often the challenges the characters face still apply in adult years, and the format of the books makes the digesting of material easier, faster, and more exciting.
I’d like to talk about Harry Potter for a moment. I am currently enrolled in an honors seminar about the book series—and this is where I’d like to pause. In constant fear of, again, being judged, I always have to qualify this class with the tag “honors seminar” to somehow prove that the class is legitimate. Tell anyone you’re taking a class on Harry Potter, and you’ll probably get a few eye-rolls and more than a little scorn. This, friends, irks me to no end. If you claim that Harry Potter has no place in literary critique circles, you have missed the point; that claim is ignoring the obvious success of these books and the impact across the globe. The fact that this series has endured and thrived nearly 20 years after its inception indicates that there is something important that YA naysayers are missing.
Is Harry Potter a modern classic? We won’t know for sure for many years, but I would say that it is heading in that direction, much like C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. The reason people are hesitant to accept it and recognize it as such is for the simple fact that it is middle-grade fiction and therefore is tagged with this ridiculous social stigma.
I could go on for a lot longer about this, but I’m afraid I’m beating a dead horse. Minds have already been made up, but it’s my hope that soon the public will accept YA as a legitimate genre with legitimate subject matter. Yes, they’re written differently than “adult” novels. Yes, the characters are younger and greener.
But their problems are legitimate and real, and denying that is underestimating an entire generation and those who grow from it. Spitting on YA fiction is spitting on the text that treats teens as real people and challenges them with the hard moral choices of its characters.
It all comes down to personal preference, I suppose. Some people will swear by the classics (don’t get me wrong, I LOVE classics and get a lot of enjoyment out of them), while others will be content with a strict diet of Anne Rice novels, while still others will be happy with nothing more than the Teen Paranormal Romance section in Barnes and Noble. All I’m saying is–don’t knock it until you try it, and don’t judge others based on something in which they find meaning.
Maybe one day I’ll “outgrow” YA fiction. Maybe one day I’ll pick up a Tom Clancy novel and be as stimulated and as emotionally invested as I am reading John Green.
For now, I’ll stick with what I know best.