Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Case for YA


Roughly half of the books that I read are categorized as Young Adult, and I am most decidedly not a Young Adult. To some, this means I’m reading books that are meant for kids, which is fine. Kids are more fun anyway. But this categorization means that many adults—especially those in the literary community—automatically discount the importance of these books. They don’t carry the literary heft that something like a Jonathan Safran Foer novel does, but the distinctions between “literature” and “YA” are often arbitrary. (I would, in fact, argue that Everything is Illuminated could be marketed as YA as easily as The Book Thief was, but then we wouldn’t have created a literary darling in Foer.)

All this is to say that I’m not asking you to put down your A.S. Byatt, but I’m asking that you look past the marketing and the categorizing—and the fact that you’ll have to go into the section of the store with the tiny stools and the stain-resistant puzzle carpet—and give YA a chance. And if you are, in fact, a Young Adult: Congratulations! You were born at the right time, and you’ve got some pretty kick-ass books being written for you right now.

So here is a list of reasons why YA is awesome. You, like me, can pull from this list whenever someone wrinkles their nose and says, “I mean, I read The Hunger Games, but I’m not, like, a YA person, you know?”

Why YA is awesome:

1)    Teenagers are some of the most complex characters that can be written, and YA gives the author the freedom to put them in ridiculous situations, like throwing them in a ring where they have to kill each other, or sending them to an old guy that passes along the memories of an entire people. They are resilient yet ever evolving, which is more than you can say for most adult characters.
2)    Reading should be fun, yes? For the most part, I simply want to enjoy what I am reading. YA is fun. Spending 5 minutes on one page trying to decipher what the hell the author is trying to say: not fun. Also, I have a degree in English and an MA in Publishing. If I have to get out a dictionary more than once a page, you are trying. too. hard. Don't get me wrong, I love learning, I just think there is a fine line between challenging and overtly difficult.
3)    Here is a short list of things that have gotten a little boring coming from an adult perspective: cheating, divorce, guilt from cheating, guilt from divorce, estrangement, alcoholism, drug use, loss. I get it; we’re all guilty, we’re all sad, we’re all Dealing With It. Now go rebel against your fascist government that pumps plague into slums and we’ll talk.
4)    YA is one of the only publishing markets that is growing—exploding, in fact. If your livelihood depends on people buying books, you should probably get behind this.
5)    Avi.
6)    The Hunger Games.
7)    Pretty much every dystopian trilogy ever.
8)    Did I say Avi yet?
9)    E.L. Konigsburg.
10)  Harry effing Potter, y’all.

And that’s just the short list.

From here on out, I hope this blog gives you a thousand more reasons to love/discover/discuss YA, whether you are solidly in the adult category, or you are actually young enough to be the true target audience. 

Please feel free to send me any book recommendations or any ideas you’d like to see discussed here. Let’s do this! 


  1. One of the few - if not the only - meaningful differences left between YA and adult novels is in the resolution. You can have equally gritty, dire, morally compromised circumstances in each, equally complex protagonists and amorphous or thematic antaginists. But in a YA novel, the resolution to the plot will contain change - an evil paradigm is defeated, an intolerable situation is escaped, an eternal struggle is settled. In an adult novel, the denouement is a process of coming to terms with the lack of resolution.

    1. I think your comment is spot-on in many ways, but this idea of YA having more resolution might stem from the fact that quite a bit of the YA being published right now is science fiction, a genre that generally lends itself to resolution. If you look at books like Paper Towns, by John Green, or The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, by M.T. Anderson, they follow a more traditional "adult fiction" denouement, with the characters evolving in satisfying ways, but the plot resolution remaining more open-ended. I do agree with you wholeheartedly, though, that the circumstances and protagonists in adult literature and YA are becoming almost indistinguishable, which is why I think it's important to celebrate the merits of both!