YA fiction, or young adult fiction, happens to be one of my favourite genres. I read everything, but the novels that really stay with me tend to be those that – originally, at least – were written for teenagers. I am not, in actual fact, a teenager. As a 23 year-old, with a real-life job and a flat, I can’t quite get away with that anymore. However, I never stopped reading YA and I think I will still be reading it when I’m 45. YA can sometimes get a bad rep; that now infamous Slate article last year – where the writer told everyone they should be embarrassed for reading YA – is a prime example. Now, finally, YA seems to be getting more of the attention it deserves; so, if you haven’t read any since you left your teenage years behind, here’s why I think you should give it a go.
Reading is unarguably, inherently, unquestionably a GOOD THING. All things considered, each of us lives a relatively narrow life – because it is our life, and it will never be anyone else’s. Without fiction, we would be a lot further away from understanding other experiences outside of our own limited set. And that is why there is nothing more shameful than shaming people for what they read.
You had favourite books when you were a child. When you grew up, did those books stop being enjoyable? Is The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, and Harry Potter a pile of pants now? Of course it isn’t. That is ridiculous. A good book will make you feel something; it will have you racing home so you can finish it – whether you’re fifty or fifteen.
Some of it is, and there is nothing wrong with that. Some of the bestselling books of last year – The Hunger Games, the Divergent series – represent YA fiction. But if you, like me, sometimes feel that you’re far too cynical for the kind of fiction that will probably feature a love story that ends happily no matter the overwhelming and, quite frankly, unrealistic odds, don’t be put off. YA books represent a hugely varied section of literature, and one we’re lucky to have; whatever you like to read, there will be a YA book you’ll enjoy.
I’ve found that YA fiction, perhaps more than any other type or genre of book I regularly read, is the one that presents the most challenges and asks the most important questions. Think about it; your teenage years represent a time where you work out who you’re going to be; where you first really discover the prejudices you might face your entire life; when you first fall in love. I’ve read YA books that deal with coming to terms with sexuality, transsexuality, race, death, coping with bullying, heartbreak. Not that adult fiction doesn’t address important issues in its own right, but I think YA gives us unique insights that shouldn’t be ignored.
So, YA is simpler to read – the words are easier, you’ll finish the book quicker, you might not come away with a greater knowledge of the complexities of the language you’re reading it in. Well, so what? I actually think that the genre’s simplicity is one of its biggest strengths; it cuts us right to the quick.
Remember that YA is just a label. I work in publishing, and labels, to a certain extent, have to be there. They tell agents which editors to sell their books to, publishers how to sell their books to stores, and stores how to sell their books to customers. They should not in any way dictate what you choose to read. To me, it’s just a way of organising – it doesn’t determine what’s inside.
If someone tells you that you’re too old for the book you’re reading, or judges you in any way for your reading choices, they are a book snob. Snobs of all kind are misguided, wrong and too wrapped up in their own pretense to notice what they’re missing – and book snobs are no exception. Give them a pitying smile, and retreat back to the wonderful world you’re currently immersed in.
I will be proudly brandishing my YA novel on the train home tonight, and I hope you will, too. I’m always keen to discover new books as well, so please do leave some recommendations for me in the comments! What are your favourite YA books?