So, for today’s post I’m going to be getting up on my soapbox and talking about a topic that I feel VERY strongly about. That topic is, of course, the Young Adult genre.
I was talking to one of my friends recently and we had a conversation that went something like this:
Friend: I know this sounds bad, but sometimes I just feel like I shouldn’t be reading YA, like its not good enough.
Me: I understand what you’re saying… BUT IT MAKES ME SO MAD!!
Well, It didn’t go exactly like that, (no I did not yell at her, throw my hands in the air in an angry frenzy, and scare all the other people around us as we were walking down the street, although I wanted to), but the gist is definitely there. This is something that, as a YA reader and advocate of the YA genre, I have heard over, and over, and over, and over (you get the picture) again.
This particular conversation really got me thinking though, why does it seem that so many people, unfortunately, share this degrading sentiment about YA? This sentiment that it is not up to snuff? This sentiment that YA books are some how less literary, less meaningful, less worth your time, and just LESS everything compared to other genres of books? This sentiment that someone should hide the fact that they might actually like a YA book? This sentiment that it is somehow shameful to read and, more importantly, enjoy a YA book (especially if you’re not a teenager)?
Well, enough is enough, and I am going to explain to all the YA naysayers out there why YA is not only a worthwhile genre but a CRUCIAL genre to the literary and reading landscape.
Reading is fun, don’t spoil it for others
Reading is not something that anyone has to do. (Unless its for school. Do your homework kids!) Everything you read is completely and entirely your choice. It’s what you find enjoyable! If you get bored reading literary fiction…you don’t read literary fiction. If you think books about space are too unrealistic and so you don’t connect with them…you don’t read science fiction. If you think history is only a class period in school where you can catch up on sleep…you don’t read historical fiction or nonfiction (unless you want to take a nap).
Basically, there is a genre out there for everyone. No single person has the same exact reading taste as someone else and that is not only alright, it is GOOD! That is why we are blessed in the book-world with so much diversity in perspective, theme, and story… because books are published for the reader that will like them, not for every reader on the planet Earth. Essentially, this means then, while you might not like Fantasy for example, someone else does, and that is OK. You don’t have to buy that new book about magic-wielding trolls fulfilling a prophecy to save their own race from destruction by demons, but Bob, the fantasy-fan can!
But what if you could no longer read your favorite genre because others deemed it unimportant? What if you could no longer read your favorite genre because others thought it just wasn’t legitimate? What if you could no longer read your favorite genre because you were embarrassed to buy it? What if you could no longer read your favorite genre because you felt like everyone else thought it was stupid and worthless? Well, sadly, I think this is what can sometimes happen to YA readers. Just as fantasy or science fiction can be written off as “too nerdy” I think YA can be written off as being “surface level” or “cheesy” or “unimportant” or “just a silly genre for a bunch of fangirls.”
While I will say that its not wrong to say a surface-level, cheesy, and unimportant YA book for a bunch of fangirls doesn’t exist, it certainly isn’t fair to write off a whole genre. YA, like any genre, is full of books. Some good. Some not-so-good. Some everyone loves. Some everyone hates. Some everyone has heard of, and some no one has heard of except the one person whose favorite it is. And every YA reader deserves the freedom to choose, buy, and read a book from the YA genre without fear of judgment, just as every reader in general deserves the freedom to choose, buy and read a book from their favorite genre (whether it be fantasy or literary fiction) even if someone else doesn’t prefer that genre.
While much of this is can come down to just not caring about what other people think, I do think it is true that these stigmas can be hard to compartmentalize. Just imagine, would you be able to buy a romance novel in the store without being embarrassed? If you answered no, then you understand the importance of what I’m saying. Sometimes, we just need a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T for what we love. We just need a little validation that what we are doing is, in fact, worth it and that is why I’m writing this—to tell you, lovely YA reader, that you’re understood. You buy that book, regardless of what other people might say.
Reading can be profound, don’t discredit a genre because then the world could miss a gem
YA, like any other genre, is also the home of some fabulous, one-of-a-kind, and utterly brilliant books. It is home to books that can change lives, books that can save lives, and books that can teach us empathy, compassion, understanding. There are books out there, books we all know, like To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, that our society just needs—books that, without, the world would not be the place it could be. These types of profound, thoughtful, and deep books exist in all genres, including, YA.
The YA genre has blessed us with so many books that can just speak to the reader unlike anything else. These books aren’t just surface level, or purely for entertainment (although those do exist, and if thats what you want to read at a certain time, why not?), they aim to dig deeper, to talk about the stuff no one can, to connect with the reader, to help the reader understand themselves or those around them, and to help the reader realize they’re not alone. What I want to say is, YA contains deep, important, and worthwhile themes. Not just love triangles. And I’m going to list a couple of these completely irreplaceable YA reads.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
It’s Kind of A Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Now this is a list of just SOME of the books that I think really speak to the depth of the YA genre. There are really so many more that I think do a wonderful job dealing with coming of age themes, providing representation, and teaching self-confidence, among other things. The YA genre has given us some books, that without, the world would be seriously lacking! We need this whole entire genre of YA—all the good, bad, and ugly that it offers—because without it, we would lose those gems, like the ones I’ve listed above, that help us as readers, and society as a whole grow.
Reading helps us grow, don’t take that ability away from young readers
Speaking of the ability of YA to help us grow leads me to my next point; we need YA as a stepping stone. Genres like YA exist because they cater to a specific age group. We need children’s books. We need middle grade books. We need YA. Because they are all, first and foremost, written for a specific level of reader. Most children can’t read a YA book. Some middle grade readers aren’t ready for the themes presented in YA, and some YA readers aren’t ready to read adult books. Just as children’s books and middle grade books help young readers learn to read, love reading, and grow their reading abilities, YA does the same. It is, for many, another essential step in the reading process.
Everybody learns to read at their own pace. Everybody grows in life at their own pace too. There are definitely teenage readers who can both comprehend and emotionally handle an adult book. Those readers, then, can go ahead and read what they feel they are ready for. But, there are also plenty of teen readers who may not be at the reading level necessary, or be ready for the harsh and straightforward presentation of certain themes in adult literature and fiction. That’s okay too, because the YA genre can provide that area for growth in reading that those readers may need. This is why I believe YA is essential; it shows young people how reading can be fun—how reading can be an exciting experience that connects with them emotionally and mentally. YA provides that essential and crucial stepping stone on the path towards literacy.
Just like children’s and middle grade books need adults to write them, stock them, buy them, and sell them so that children can read them, YA needs those same adult advocates. YA needs all people—young or old—to appreciate it, so that young readers will always have this wonderful genre to help them grow.
Reading is whatever you want it to be, don’t ever feel bad about what you like
I know this is a long post. I have had a lot to say to back up the legitimacy of the YA genre. I just want to end with one more thing: remember that reading is your own experience. It doesn’t matter at all if the only reason you read is for entertainment or pleasure. It doesn’t make you stupid. It doesn’t make you lesser than any other reader. JUST READ. Whatever you want to read, READ it. Reading, no matter what the book, is an experience that helps us grow as humans. So let yourself grow, and let others grow, in whatever way they want or can.
Thanks so much for sticking through that post guys! I told you, I feel very strongly about this stuff! Anyway, let me know if you have had any experiences like this before! If so, what have you done about it? Also, do you believe YA to be as essential and legitimate of a genre as I do? Let me know in the comments!