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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

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Why Should You Read YA?

I'm supposed to talk to you about why you should read YA fiction. That's "young adult" books, if you're wondering. Books aimed at teenagers. And I'll be upfront, I don't actually know the answer to this, so I'm going to stall by telling you a story.

I had just graduated high school. A friend and I were talking online, and for some reason or other she said, "Have you read Harry Potter?? You really should, it's good!"

What I typed was "Okay! :D" What I thought was 'Are you kidding me? You want me to read a children's book?'

I'd seen Harry Potter on TV. This was just as the series was taking the United States by storm. There were news broadcasts in my town about how parents disapproved because it promoted witchcraft. But that didn't matter to me. It was a kids' book. You know, for kids! Why in the world should I be interested in it? 

But this was a friend whose opinion I valued, so the next time I went by the bookstore, I popped in and looked for the title. I found it, and immediately was surprised: this kids' book was a novel. Clearly I had not been watching those news broadcasts close enough, because I was expecting something more like a picture book.

So I picked up The Sorcerer's Stone (this in itself was a miracle because I had no idea that it was a series and the books should be read in order). I went home, turned to the first page, and I didn't put it down again until I had reached the last. I was a changed person. Harry Potter not only opened my eyes to children's literature, but to fantasy. I've since fallen down a rabbit hole from which I may never come out.

And people are still talking about why adults read YA. It's perhaps no secret that a lot of adults do, and the media seems eternally fascinated by this. Once a month yet another article pops up trying to puzzle out the mystery. What interest could grown men and women possibly have in stories written for and about kids?

But here's the problem, as I see it: most of those writers don't actually know what YA is. Or maybe they're going for sensationalized headlines and easy page hits, that could also be the case. But really, anyone who brushes off an entire category of literature as not worth anyone's time is getting the side-eye from me.

How do you classify YA? It's not really a genre. It's a market. So it's hard to pin down exactly what you can expect from a YA novel. What are they about? Just about anything you can imagine. Coming of age stories, space adventures, sexual awakenings, swords and shields, fairies, dysfunctional families, drug abuse, road trips, archaic technology and altered histories, sex trafficking, animals, aliens, werewolves, small-town summers, zombies, high school feuds... man, I could go on.

I started with that Harry Potter story because, like me, you may have a certain idea of what YA is—what children's literature is—and I think it's a shame if your preconceptions are holding you back from experiencing something that could be really great. Because what is YA, exactly? Nobody knows, and that's part of the thrill of reading it. You never know what amazing stories you'll stumble upon.

There are plenty of reasons to read YA. I don't know what they are because they're gonna be different for everybody, and I don't know you people (though I'm sure you're all lovely, it's just y'know, I'm pretty much just a temporary box of text in your life). So instead, here are the reasons I read YA.

Because Valiant made me fall in love with fairies and urban fantasy.

Because my mom brought home a copy of Speak from the high school where she taught and said, "You need to read this." I did, and I saw my own teenage silence reflected on the page.

Because in The Fetch, Alexei and Anastasia Romanov survive.

Because to this day I've never read another book quite like Eyes Like Stars.

Because I almost didn't read The Thief, and now Eugenides/Irene is my OTP.

Because I'd never cried over a book before Jellicoe Road.

Because reading Howl's Moving Castle is like curling up in a chair with a blanket on a rainy day.

Because The Summer Prince is a sexy and beautiful take on post-apocalyptic Brazil.

Because I can't
actually tell if Mortal Engines is YA or not, that's how gritty it is.

Because The Hunger Games. Because... because The Hunger Games.

So now that I've run out of things to say, I'll leave off with this delightful quote by Nick Hornby

“I see now that dismissing YA books because you’re not a young adult is a little bit like refusing to watch thrillers on the grounds that you’re not a policeman or a dangerous criminal, and as a consequence, I’ve discovered a previously ignored room at the back of the bookstore that’s filled with masterpieces I’ve never heard of.”

1 comment:

  1. This is wonderful! YA is not just for young adults, but the world!