Technically, the literature genre called Young Adult (YA) shouldn’t be appealing to me. With the readership aimed between 12-18-year olds, I have often wondered why I am heavily invested in the Young Adult genre. When I was younger, I was drawn to YA books where the protagonist is battling to save the world, community, or town. I wanted to battle sea monsters, fall in love with a vampire, or develop magical powers to save the world.
I still do.
Now, I also enjoy reading YA fiction that targets very serious political and social issues. These issues more often than not affect teenagers just as much as adults. And most YA authors have mastered how to discuss these issues in a clear way that doesn’t feel overwhelming.
What is YA fiction?
As I mentioned previously YA stands for Young Adult and I see it as a bridge between children’s books and adult books. These particular stories are often discussing social and political issues that are dubbed as too explicit. However, they are also widely applicable to teenagers across all cultures.
Where did it stem from?
Some say we are in the second golden era of the Young Adult genre, which apparently started in the 2000s. As a self-proclaimed avid reader, I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint when I started reading YA literature. Apparently, it began with the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone which I read at the age of 9/10.
After that, we truly saw an emergence of popular teen books such as The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, Divergent by Veronica Roth, Paper Towns by John Green and so much more. They took the world by storm. All of these titles were turned into hugely successful films that blew us all away with their popularity. We all traveled to the cinema to see the final twilight films. (I don’t think I’ll ever get over that final fight scene in Breaking Dawn Part 2).
I think we all collectively screamed.
And yet, with all these titles came more diverse stories, as the demand for them slowly grew.
When did diversity enter YA?
Even as I wrote that earlier section, I recognised that the titles I mentioned were all written by white authors, majority female. This is highly reminiscent of the publishing industry at the time. It’s also a very accurate representation of the stories I was reading during my teenage years. The closest I got to diversity was Malorie Blackman – who is still one of my favourite authors to date. I’ve read the majority of her titles as they were the closest, I got to representation. From Pig-Heart Boy to the incredible Noughts & Crosses, I devoured them all.
We got the odd diverse characters in the hugely successful novels I previously mentioned. Such as Rue in The Hunger Games and Christina in Divergent. (The casting for Divergent’s Christina still very much hurts because I was TOLD sis had ‘dark brown skin’…)
No offense to Zoe Kravitz…I just didn’t picture her at ALL.
Anyways, I genuinely can’t tell you when I started reading diverse YA. I only remember reading diverse YA during my final year of university. At that point, I had already started reading adult books with diverse characters experiencing racism and micro-aggression.
But now, there are so many incredible diverse novels. Some of which I hold dear to my heart because up until last year, I didn’t realise how limited my imagination was. YA fantasy is taking the world by storm, with beautiful diverse stories created from myths and folklore across the world.
(I will be doing a YA fantasy list soon but if you would like longer reviews of any of these books – please let me know in the comments!)
Why does it receive backlash?
I’ll be honest. I have no idea why it receives some of the backlash it does. We often get swoon-worthy romance, drama, the occasional curse word, good vs evil conflict, deep emotions, friendship and family relationships and so much more.
There are concerns that some of the topics discussed are too graphic for younger readers. But, there-in lies the problem.
Many YA books discuss some very difficult issues and do it in excellent ways.
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – Police Brutality and Micro-aggression
- Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman – Racism
- Legendborn by Tracy Deonn – Grief
- Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett – HIV
- Boys Don’t Cry by Malorie Blackman – Pregnancy & Sexuality
- 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher – Suicide
- Looking for Alaska by John Green – self-harm, sex, drugs
Are we really going to ignore the fact that teenagers don’t go through all of these issues aswell? This is exactly why some children grow up thinking what they went through wasn’t normal. These books provide almost a reaffirmation of emotions for those that have struggled. It’s a safe space and often, these stories provide invaluable lessons on how to deal with these issues going forward.
Swearing in YA – should it be allowed?
Okay, are we going to sit here and pretend that 14 year olds don’t swear?
I know 14 year-olds that swear more than me. Now, I understand the concerns as a parent. Perhaps, you feel that swearing may become normalised. You would rather your child isn’t encouraged to swear at the dinner table or whenever they’re stressed.
I get it.
But, let’s be honest. How credible is a YA book without the occasional curse word? Now, I’m not saying it’s absolutely necessary. One thing that I love about YA is that each story feels very much like the author’s truth. If the author doesn’t want their protagonist to swear then that’s their choice. However, I think authors that do make their protagonists swear shouldn’t be criticised or judged.
Everyone has a different story to tell and they all look incredibly different. Who are we to judge that?
Why do I still read YA?
With the incredibly diverse stories that are coming out right now with YA, to me, reading YA is a reckoning.
It’s allowing my teenage self to revel in the stories that are reminiscent to me but also to other cultures. My teenage self can be the protagonist of any story I read. It encourages my imagination to take flight and to dream. To have goals that may have seemed unattainable before but are actually within my reach if I want them to be.
I enjoy being challenged on how much I actually knew about certain countries. It stretches my emotional capacity by allowing me to empathise with situations I’ve never been in.
And if it does all that for me, as an adult, can you imagine what it’s doing for those that it’s actually targeted at? They’re receiving these stories at a young age. At the right age. At the age where they should be dreaming and learning about the world.
Growing up, I feel I jumped from teen books straight to adult. I often wished for a ‘bridge’ of some sort to make the jump feel more natural. YA is that bridge. These YA books often feel nostalgic and takes me to a time when I used to spend hours reading. With a pandemic and a national lockdown, escapism has been what I’ve sought out the most. As I said in my blog post ‘Escapism: Is it bad?’….why should I apologise for something that makes me happy? You shouldn’t either.
Reading YA is my soul making up for lost time.
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