As a woman dangerously close to her 30s, I get a lot of weird looks when I say I write about young adult literature. I find myself often coming to YA's defense from skeptics and downright antagonists, who just can't believe in young adult's literary or cultural merit. And based on the reaction to the #IReadYA hashtag on Twitter this week, I am far from alone. However, in looking, I can also find a find a vast and passionate community of readers.
Publisher Scholastic's reader community This Is Teen has designated this May 19 to 23 as "I Read YA Week." Readers are asked to share the logo on their social media profiles and use the hashtag #ireadYA to participate on Twitter with various questions or themes through the week. For instance, May 22 will be Relationship Day, where readers are tasked with making love matches between their favorite YA characters from different books. (My pick? Holden Caulfield and Alaska Young. Katniss Everdeen and Captain Thorne, because she could use a little humor). May 19 asked readers to recommend their favorite YA novels — which has echoed through the hashtag throughout the week, with fans touting their favorite books to the masses.
Because of the snark surrounding adult YA fans, many readers are also showcasing why they choose to read young adult literature. Based on the ideas from those populating the hashtag (and yes, okay, my own personal love of young adult lit), there are six major reasons that we will always love YA.
1. YA Focuses on the Story
Some YA detractors may consider this is downfall, but young adult novels aren't usually meandering diatribes about existence and love. Instead, the best YA novels are able to show you everything through the story itself. Did we need Gus and Hazel to tell us over and over the meaning of love? Or was the story of their love enough to tell us everything we needed?
Young adult books tell a narrative story, with drama, twists, surprises and suspense, and the best ones draw compelling, realistic characters. And it's this story that keeps readers coming back for the numerous sequels and feeling a true emotional connection to the characters and the drama unfolding.
2. YA Authors take artistic risks
This focus on the story doesn't mean it's at the expense of artistic merit. One of the biggest myths of YA literature is that it's the same thing over and over again — with the current focus on dystopia. But look around; YA authors are taking artistic risks all the time. Marcus Sedgwick won a Printz Award for Midwinterblood is told in seven parts from several point of views. His most recent novel, She is Not Invisible, talks about coincidences from the point of view of a blind main character.
Gayle Foreman, herself, wrote If I Stay from the perspective of a teenage girl teetering on the edge of death; Kathleen Hale's No One Else Can Have You takes a murder mystery into a hilarious, innovative place; and Jenny Hubbard and Ellen Hopkins have written YA novels in part prose and part verse, with And We Stay and Crank, respectively.
The issues people have with innovation and artistic merit? You'd be able to find the same downfalls with any category of literature, adult or otherwise. It shouldn't detract from the name of the entire category.
3. YA Stories Don't Patronize
Though we might forget once we're a few years out of college, teenagers are real people with real life concerns. Novels in the adult section can tend to pigeonhole teenagers into categories based on stereotypes. They hate their parents, they are sullen, they are always on their phones (as if adults aren't). Or the opposite, they're "special" or "gifted" in some way that drives a story.
On the other hand, young adult novels and their authors don't speak down to teenagers and even children. They recognize that their experiences are valid. And it's important to note that these novels also find an adult audience, which may mean that grown-up children remember the power of their emotions and issues way back when and want to see them represented.
However, strangely enough, this encompassing category tends to get patronized itself. These novels are seen as "lesser" or not "real" literature, leading to a stigma in YA. But This is Teen's #IReadYA week should show that readers aren't willing to be stigmatized anymore.
4. We Can All Remember Being Young
The youthful energy imbued into YA novels is imbued with nostalgia. The fact is, we all remember being young. We remember the time when anything was possible, and first boyfriends were supposed to be forever boyfriends, and our friends were the beginning and the end of everything. YA authors remember that too.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart and graphic novel This One Summer helps us remember the power of teenage summers with the endless days we could fill with stories and adventures. John Green and Rainbow Rowell remember that first spark of first love when it seemed like nothing else could ever feel that way. And Ann Brashares remembers how our female friends stood by us through every hiccup and every roadblock, to the point where we thought it was magical.
On the This is Teen site, bestselling YA author Kiersten White explained why she writes young adult novels, touching on these themes.
...because when you're a teen, your whole future opens up in front of you--in all its utterly terrifying, agonizingly dramatic glory.
5. Stories about Young Adults are Still Relevant
But it's not just the nostalgia factor that pulls us grown-ups into YA. Young adult stories are generally about first experiences with the world and learning about yourself and who you are — things adults are still experiencing. Seeking your identity is not something strictly for teenagers.
6.. YA Readers are Passionate
YA readers will not only read your book, they'll buy and devour all its sequels, get merchandise, and buy movie tickets, in advance, in IMAX. You remember staying up late in bed with a flashlight and a book, unable to put it down despite your sagging eyelids. (You remember this because it was just last night, of course.) YA readers are engaged with social media and with the authors, and they'll give you a piece of their mind. They are vehemently #TeemPeeta, they take up archery like Katniss, they go to Divergent camps, they vacation to Harry Potter and other theme parks, and they will let you know if they don't like your ending, Veronica Roth, and they'll do it with an understanding of character motivations.
In a world where "experts" keep saying kids (and adults) aren't reading like they used to, the entire literature community could use this kind of passion.
Image: Flickr / Xanetia