There has been a lot written in the media over the past few months about adults who read Young Adult books. Ruth Graham wrote a piece for Slate.com in which she stated that adults should be “embarrassed” by reading YA books. That article was countered by a host of others defending the genre and the adults who read it, including, now, me.
I find myself firmly ensconced in the “in defense of adults reading YA” camp, not only because I’m a reader of the genre but a writer of it as well, and I find it hard to separate my love of one from my love for the other. The reason I wanted to write YA is because these are the books whose characters and stories have resonated with me the most out of everything I’ve ever read. I remember reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as a child, and re-reading it as an adult, and finding the same love of the characters and the world of Narnia as I originally did. Harry Potter. Twilight. The Hunger Games. Divergent. The Fault in Our Stars. I’ve read them all, and then some.
It’s not that I don’t read other, more “literary”, more “adult” books. It’s just that, honestly, I don’t usually like them as much as their Young Adult counterparts. I wish I could tell you why, but it would probably take me hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of therapy to figure it out. However, I do have some theories. The first being, so much of YA is about firsts. First crush, first kiss, first sexual experience, first heartbreak, and all of the self- discovery that comes with that. As an adult I can’t tell you what I had for breakfast today, but I can remember all of these firsts. So, it’s my belief that those moments in YA help bring us adults, the ones racing through our day so much so that everything is a blur, back to those most impactful moments in our own lives, the ones that remain vivid even when everything else has faded.
Another reason I find myself drawn to YA is that, as a reader, I tend to be more forgiving of all those young adult characters and the mistakes they make – mistakes all characters must make for you to have an interesting story. As a grown up, I tend not to be all that forgiving of other grown ups who do stupid things when they should know better. Lessons they should have learned as children or teenagers. Even the fictional ones. I remember reading a fairly current literary masterpiece thinking, God, this guy just keeps doing dumb things. Yes, it was very well written. But, I could not forgive the character for his stupidity. However, in New Moon when Edward told Bella that he was leaving Forks because she’s become “a distraction” and that he no longer loves her, even though you don’t believe him and you know it’s totally stupid because he really does love her and he’s just trying to protect her…well…heartbreak! But you can forgive him because he’s only 17. (Actually, he’s over 100 years old, but, still…)
Then there are those novels where the fate of the story, or sometimes the world, is resting on a kid’s shoulders. And I totally buy that. Whereas, if the person were, say, 48-years-old, I would think it was ridiculous. It probably has something to do with the fact that given the state of the world, I don’t have that much faith in adults to do the right thing anymore. We are too corrupted by money, ideology, laziness, and too busy making sure we aren’t late for work to be heroes. But, kids and teens, well, they are the closest things we have to magic today. Even long after they stop believing in Santa or the Tooth Fairy, kids still believe that it’s possible for them to become superstars or travel to space or become the President. They still believe they can succeed in life because life hasn’t yet told them that they can’t. And thank God, because how do you accept growing up in a world with climate change and poverty and war if you don’t believe you can change it? They have the sense of immortality and invulnerability that all young people have, never believing that bad things can touch them, even if they make bad choices. To me, it’s always believable that a teenager will do whatever it takes to move those mountains in a plot to best the bad guy or to win true love or to fulfill their destiny or to just come to terms with the flaws in their own life, because they don’t know better yet. They don’t know yet that they are just supposed to be ordinary people, so they can strive to be extraordinary in the most believable way.
But what it really comes down to is, what difference does it make what “genre” you lump it in with as long as it’s a good story? I’ve ready crappy YA and I’ve read crappy literature. I’ve also read fantastic YA and fantastic literature. And you know what the difference is? Not much. A good story is a good story.
For example, one of the first, great paranormal YA books that I ever read really stuck with me. The plot: a teenage girl is forced to into an arranged marriage because of societal pressures. However, before she is married, a supernatural being comes to her and tells her that he will impregnate her, and that her child will save the world! Despite the threat to her – being shunned by her family, her fiancé, and possibly even being killed, she agrees to see this through. The name of the story? Luke 1:26-38. Yeah, it’s the account of the Virgin Birth from the Bible. So, Ruth Graham, if an entire religion can be based on this particular paranormal YA account, good luck telling me not to read the next John Green book that comes out.