/In defense of young adult literature

In defense of young adult literature

The genre to which these popular titles belong was on the chopping block in Slate.com’s Against YA: Adults Should Be Embarrassed to Read Children’s Books.

I’ll admit it. I love a good young adult novel. I’m not ashamed.

I read all four installments of the Lunar Chronicles in a week. It’s been almost a year since I read “We Were Liars,” and I’m still not over it. I have read the “Harry Potter” series in its completion at least a dozen times. I love YA lit.

There is something about these young protagonists being thrust into these fantastic and awful events that I continuously find fascinating. I like the struggle, the coming of age, the trivial emotion.

What I do not like is the trivial way YA lit is treated.

I recently read an article entitled “Yes, Adults Should Be Embarrassed to Read Young Adult Books” by Ruth Graham for Slate.com, and as someone who is considered by law to be an adult I was enraged.

As a general rule I try not to get upset when someone does not like YA lit. Not everyone likes it, and that’s fine. There is a plethora of books for people to enjoy. What makes me angry is when someone talks down about YA lit. The article I read labeled the genre as “literature for children” and proceeded to shame the readers of the genre who did not meet the age bracket (12-17).

Yes, YA lit can be a bit simple at times. There are some awful novels produced in the genre, but then again, that’s true of any genre. However, just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t judge a genre by all its bestsellers.

The article I read focused almost exclusively on realistic fiction within YA lit, primarily on the novel “The Fault in Our Stars.” I read the aforementioned book and the majority of John Green’s work. No, they weren’t brilliant, but there are plenty of YA novels that are.

One of the claims that really got me yelling was “…reading this stuff has to do with escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia.” This is a true phrase. A lot of YA lit has to do with this. But then, doesn’t most literature?

Science fiction and fantasy are classified as escapist literature, which would therefore make “Lord of the Rings,” “A Game of Thrones,” “Fahrenheit 451,” and “Dune” escapist literature.

The majority of romance literature provides readers with instant gratification, no matter what the age bracket is. A good book, or series for that matter, will not provide its reader with instant gratification simply because they want the reader to keep reading.

YA lit has produced several fantastic series such as “Harry Potter,” “The Hunger Games,” “The Lunar Chronicles,” and “The Unwind Dystology.” These New York Times bestsellers have all withheld gratification either altogether or until the tail ends of their stories. Nostalgia is a weak descriptor, as any book can be nostalgic in some form or another.

I almost threw myself from the bed I was laying on when I read the line “YA readers are asked to immerse themselves in a character’s emotional life … they are asked to abandon the mature insights into that perspective that they (supposedly) have acquired as adult.”

It seems to be unknown to adult readers that teenage and young adult readers are capable of critical reading and mature insights into written works, whether from the literary canon or from the YA genre.I have had several academic discussions on YA lit such as the political commentary in dystopian fiction, mental entropy in the Hunger Games and the effects of relationship presentation in fiction.

The next whopper was “These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction-of the real world-is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction.” If someone can be dense enough to believe that YA fiction does not have moral ambiguity and reflect aspects of the real world in fantastic ways then I don’t think I can help you.

In short, YA lit has been consistently labeled as vapid and uninteresting, and this is not a fair judgement. The majority of the YA genre is geared toward female readers, this can be tracked in the rise of the female protagonist in recent years. Teenage females have been consistently ignored and ridiculed for their interests. Maybe there isn’t a correlation. Maybe I’m too much of a feminist critic, but this has been a consistent theme from bloggers and adult reviewers of YA Lit. I love the genre. I always will, and I want to see it treated with the respect it deserves.

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