Monday, July 12, 2010

Why YA?

You all know that I love to read and may have noticed that one genre I particularly favor is YA. As you may also already know, I just graduated this spring from a small, private liberal arts college. I’m sure this seems strange to some people given my educational background, especially upon hearing that I was an English major. I think a lot of people who’ve had similar educational backgrounds would assume that I devote my time to classics and literary fiction, and some might even turn up their nose at YA and claim that it has little academic merit, a statement with which I disagree. Yet I’m 22 years old, I still read YA, and I know of other people my age and older (gasp!) who do as well.

I consider myself an advocate of reading for every age group, and I think that people should read what they want to read it, not what other people consider age appropriate or intellectual. I believe reading can increase a person’s vocabulary and help someone imagine a different way of life, or a situation from a different perspective, or just be a way to relax and have fun. I could go on and on about why I think people should read, but I think that everyone should read a book or a magazine at some point, even if it’s not very often.

I love YA and I don’t think it’s a genre that gets the credit or respect that it deserves. Don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty of adult fiction that I hold close to my heart, and I still read adult books. I think part of my love for it could be that as I’m in my early twenties, I’m fairly close to what I consider the target audience of this genre. I generally think of the most targeted as tweens and teenagers, but I know people from many age groups who love YA. But I don’t necessarily see myself as becoming less enamored with the genre as I grow older.

So now the question is, why do I read so much YA? Why don’t I spend more time reading adult novels, or beloved classics? I’m not positive that I have a perfect answer to this question. I think that when I was younger and around twelve or thirteen, I liked the genre because I thought that it helped me see kids close to my age doing awesome and amusing things, whether it be becoming a knight like Alanna, going to Hogwarts or discovering that my father is a prince of a small European country. However, books have also been a way for me to connect with other people. I bonded with a neighbor after we walked to our local library and she introduced me to the works of Tamora Pierce, which later in the year led to a girl in my math class befriending me after seeing me balancing a copy of Lioness Rampant on my trapper keeper. I volunteer at my local library and just the other week I started talking books with someone my age and led to discovering that she knows one of my best friends from high school. As an aside, this is weird because I went to high school in Ohio and now live in Minnesota.

Now I love that YA deals with issues that are actually relevant to teenagers and adults, and while there’s a lot of different sub-genres, I think this is true of all of them. Being able to relate, empathize or sympathize with a character and or his or her situation makes him or her much more likeable. In Rampant Astrid contemplates her virginity and it’s meaning to her. In The Princess Diaries Mia struggles with body image problems. In The Hunger Games, Katniss struggles with what she wants versus what she feels she has to do. In Before I Fall Kent and Sam both struggle with how they and the friendship between them has changed over the years. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. I think that if one searched hard enough, any reader can find a character who they can relate to.

I also have more personal reasons why I read YA, and I think it’s because I feel such a strong connection to the genre because I connected to others through books and grew to read so much more. I think that these days picking up an old YA favorite helps me reminisce back to my geeky, bookish, sixth grade self. I would still love to get an acceptance letter from Hogwarts or a job offer as a knight. And I love continuously exploring new worlds, or meeting more characters that I see parts of myself in, or that intrigue me. Jackson Pearce, author of As You Wish and Sisters Red, recently made a vlog entitled “Why I Write For Teens” in which she says, “When I was a teenager I wanted to do everything, and I guess I still do in a lot of ways.”

I think Jackson has expressed her emotions about growing up wonderfully and I can really relate to this feeling, especially as someone who isn’t really sure where I’ll be in just a few months. Rock on, Jackson! If you haven’t watched this vlog, I highly recommend that you take a look at it and Jackson’s entire blog. I love trying new things, especially when it means going some place which is new to me. Right now I feel like that, with some exceptions, I have a lot of choices regarding what I’ll do with my life. It makes me feel like so much is possible. I am contemplating becoming a librarian, but things change. I’m eager to see what my fate will be, even though part of my transition into the real world has involved frustration and I know that there is more to come.

Do I feel like I have anyone to defend my love of YA to? No. I’ll read what I want to read, thank you. Am I eager to persuade non YA readersto give the genre a chance? Definitely. I don't think I can express my enjoyment of other genres as well as I can for YA, like adult, or the sub-genres of YA, but if I do I hope to give you all an update with my thoughts. Until then, I’ll be reading and blogging about YA books, along with many others.


  1. I agree with everything you've said. I think part of the problem with YA is that it's a recent genre. It was only just before our generation that people began to recognize "teenager" as a stage of life, and I think our generation is probably the first to have a genre of books entirely dedicated to that stage of life. I think some people are skeptical because before YA was a genre "teenagers" just read the same books as adults. I don't think they even give the books a chance, much less understand what YA can contribute to the lives of those that read it. Personally, I think YA is better because it makes the same points without resorting to frivolous sex scenes etc. to get the point across.

  2. Really great post, Liz. I feel the same way also, and in fact I wrote a post about it right here.

    I think it's the same when Harry Potter came out, everyone kept wondering why adults were reading it when it's supposedly a "Children's book." It is a children's book, so does it mean that it's limited for them? I don't think so.. it's like saying that you can't read vampire books because, well, you're not a vampire...... hmm..

  3. Hey Liz,
    Thank you for such a great post! Judging by the vast amounts of YA book blogs (many of which are run by very proud *ahem* non-teens!) you definitely hit the nail on the head. Excellent post, and thank you for sharing your thoughts with us! YA is definitely deserving of praise. I think the pure creativity found in YA that (for the most part) may be lacking in "grown up fiction" is what makes the genre so endearing.
    Bravo to you! And congrats on a fabulous month :D

  4. I found that I didn't really like YA lit when I was that age. A lot of it seemed...well, boring. There wasn't much YA fantasy or sci-fi, which was what I truly craved, so I ended up clinging to some MG (K.A. Applegate) or skipping ahead to 'adult' fiction (Piers Anthony, Melanie Rawn). The few books I do remember reading during the 'appropriate age' were a few of Tamora Pierce's Tortall and Circle series, started Diane Duane's Young Wizards series, and Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy. But even those seemed like they hit late in high school.

    I think Harry Potter opened up the YA fantasy boom hit shortly after I'd entered high school. But by then I was often bogged down with required reading. But now, finally free of college, the vast array of tantalizing covers and titles are available and ready for the picking! In some ways, I almost feel like I'm making up for what I missed.

    I don't think I'll ever grow out of YA books. With TV, I remember thinking that there'd be an age when I wouldn't want to watch cartoons anymore. Though I do feel as if the quality of cartoons has dropped since 'my time', I still enjoy watching certain shows regardless if they're cartoons or not. In the same way, there are still some 'adult' shows which I don't think I'll ever like.

    And from one English Major (okay, Creative Writing) to another, you're definitely not alone ;D

  5. Thanks, everyone, for your thoughtful comments!

    @Anne I think your right, but I will politely disagree with you that sex scenes are frivolous (and I realize that you may not have meant "Every sex scene is frivolous!". I think they can have their place in YA, and I wonder if some authors utilize them to show how random hook-ups can be bad, or how doing it with someone you love can be really awesome. Obviously this isn't the case with every author, but in some cases it's true. I also don't mind sex scenes in adult novels.

    @Jillian Aww, the link to your post didn't work :( But I totally agree with you! My philosophy about reading is that people should read whatever they want!

    @Amelia Thannk you, and thanks for being so supportive as I start up my blog!

    @Anne I know exactly what you mean. I love having time to read again since graduation!



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