It’s Lit

Why You Shouldn’t Dismiss YA Fiction

Young adult literature is often a divisive topic among book-readers—one that can ruin friendships, cause literary wars, or at least prompt school-newspaper coverage. (We book-readers are very passionate about our opinions and must express them to the public after all.)

Although some critics dismiss young adult fiction as lowbrow reading, believing that YA novels have no merit because they’re marketed toward teenagers and therefore must feature relatively unchallenging language and simplistic plots, this notion could not be more incorrect.  First, making such generalizations is in itself problematic because generalizations, by nature, do not represent the whole story. Believing that all YA novels aren’t worth reading is akin to thinking that all Asians are good at math—a generalization which I, unfortunately, can personally attest is untrue.

Book-to-movie adaptations of popular YA series, like Twilight or Divergent, have made even those outside of the book-reading community aware of works in the YA genre. However, these book-to-movie adaptations often undermine the actual depth that the original stories possess, presenting watered-down characters and unfaithful re-imaginings of the plot that only further contribute to people’s notions that YA fiction isn’t worthwhile. Because much of a work’s complexity is lost when translated to film or TV, adaptations of YA novels should not inform people’s opinions of the genre. YA series that are widely known due to the backing of a movie or TV franchise mustn’t be seen as representative of all, or even the best, of what YA has to offer. There’s a lot more to YA than sparkly vampires and hackneyed dystopians—I promise.

Additionally, some people find the “young adult” label itself off-putting, not reading the genre because they fall outside the target age range or have preconceived notions about the quality of books marketed towards teens. I find this synonymous with an adult refusing to eat a cartoon themed cake. Like are you really not going to eat the cake with Pikachu on it just because Pokémon is a show mainly watched by children? Will the cake be any less delicious just because it’s adorned with pipe-frosted Pokéballs? No, assuming that the cake is well-made, it will taste just as good as other cakes—if not better. If the cake does taste bad, it’s the fault of the baker and not of all Pokémon-themed cakes. Basically, a product marketed toward teens is not intrinsically less valuable by virtue of its target audience.

Ultimately, the YA label is a marketing tool that publishers use to sell books. Authors on BookCon at NY Comic Con’s “Smells like Teen Spirit” panel said that the YA label is just that—a label, not a definition of what the books are. Speaking for themselves, the authors agreed that they typically just set out to write good stories—not necessarily stories specifically for teens. When they have a story to tell, they don’t sit down and think about how to make the story appeal to those ages 13 to 18; it’s usually publishers that decide how the book should be categorized.

Furthermore, to combat preconceived notions that YA novels don’t tell stories that those outside the marketed age range can find relatable or interesting, I’d like clarify that not every YA book is about being a young adult. The overarching trend of YA novels is that the books follow characters who are in their teens to early 20s, but this doesn’t mean that their ages have to play important roles in the stories. Of course, contemporary YA novels tend to deal more with the problems that teens face in modern-day society, but these issues can range from conflicts of class and race to mental illness—topics relevant to readers no matter their age.  

Although YA novels are often told from a teenager’s perspective, the stories by no means feature unsophisticated content. In YA fantasy works, for example, the protagonist could very well be the best assassin in the kingdom who labors in a death camp for a year and faces challenges that even those outside of the YA age range won’t find simplistic. Additionally, YA works often get at higher truths which resonate in the lives of all readers. Even novels featuring out-of-this-world plots are not without important themes from which readers can learn and insights that better equip readers for reality.

YA fiction covers a multitude of genres—from historical fiction to fantasy, so there’s a book to suit every mood, interest, and occasion.  Additionally, because YA novels feature straightforward language, they are much easier to read than classics where page-long descriptions of setting or paragraph-long expatiations of ideas expressible in a sentence are the norm. Not to say that these features are bad, but they aren’t always conducive to a fun time. And reading can be fun. Really.

Classics are great, literary fiction is great, but I feel that the language of these works often bars the average reader from easily enjoying the story. Of course, analyzing these works—examining how sentences and passages work to convey certain meanings and themes—can be exciting as new insights are derived and the reader is exposed to how authors have crafted time-verified narratives, but the reader has to put in a certain amount of work to fully appreciate the text.

Furthermore, humor in classics that readers would have appreciated in the past can be lost on modern-day readers—even as English teachers assert that this is funny stuff, and everyone should be laughing. The opening line of Pride and Prejudice, for example, asserts that, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” which is kind of absurd and therefore funny if you think about it because it’s the equivalent of saying if a guy is rich and single, he definitely wants a wife—like everyone agrees—he is ripe for the picking. The humor of the statement and Jane Austen’s tongue-in-cheek tone, however, may be opaque to present-day upon first glance.

YA novels, because they’re more accessible to today’s readers in terms of language and pacing, are more likely to get people actually excited about reading. Genuinely funny dialogue will make you laugh out loud and not just do that thing where you exhale a bit more through your nose because you’re kind of amused. Plot twists will catch you completely off guard and leave you reeling for a week. Cliffhangers will make you despondent and in need of the next book yesterday—nevermind that it won’t be published until next year.

With fast-paced, intricate plots and unique, lovable characters, YA fiction can be enjoyed by everyone because the works tell genuinely good stories. Vivid and complex, the rich worlds authors build draw readers in and make them long for these alternate universes to exist. Well-developed characters come alive on the page, with flaws and backstories and traits that make readers deeply invested in their arcs.

As with any other genre, YA has its duds, but there are just as many gems.