Why Young Adult Fiction is Great, Even for Adults
Why Young Adult Fiction is Great, Even for Adults
From a very young age, I started reading books that would’ve been considered “too mature” for me by most. When I was in fifth grade, we had a reading challenge that coincided with the Major League Baseball’s spring training. Every time we finished a book at home, we would write the title and author on a baseball cutout and add it to the bulletin board. My teacher called home one night because, not only did she think I was lying about the number of books I was reading, she was also certain I was lying about reading Stephen King’s The Shining. My mom assured her that I wasn’t lying. Looking back, I imagine my teacher must’ve thought my mom was lying too. I was reading mostly “adult” books because that’s what I had in my house.
While reading both the Harry Potter and A Song of Ice and Fire series throughout middle school, I found myself reaching for books with characters and tropes I was drawn to rather than paying attention to the intended audience. When, like many teens, I hit my vampire phase, I read both the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer and The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. While Anne Rice is regarded as the superior author, I was definitely more engrossed in Meyer’s world. Why? Because young adult novels, often, offer much of the same substance as adult literature without much of the pomp.
At first, I thought maybe I was still reading young adult novels because I myself hadn’t fully “grown-up” yet –whatever that means. While this might have been true when I was in college, I’m now married, own my home, and have a son. My life may look completely different than the lives of the protagonists in YA novels, but I’m still drawn to their stories.
Maybe I like YA so much because I’m a high school teacher and like to see my students in what I read. This might be closer to the truth. But I still think I see a bit of both my teen self and my current self in these characters, and that’s the real magic of young adult fiction.
Now, as a high school English teacher with a doctorate, I still read predominately young adult fiction. When I do pick up an adult title, even the ones my friends and the internet are clamouring about, I often find myself less than impressed. Adult novels, I often find, are longer than they need to be. Authors sometimes seem to assume their readers aren’t smart enough to figure things out on their own and drop too many hints or spend too much time on exposition. Even though young adult novels are aimed at younger readers, I don’t see this as much in YA.
YA has also become so much more diverse and complex across genres in the last decade, in a way that I haven’t seen in adult literature. Readers are much more likely to find characters that look like them and have similar backgrounds in young adult fiction. Oftentimes, adult fiction portrays stories of minorities regarding trauma; young adult fiction is more likely to tell stories of strength and celebration. I think this distinction is so important, particularly in our current climate and for our future leaders.
Young adult literature is also less pretentious. I teach a Science Fiction course and use a few dozen science fiction novels as choice texts for one of my units. Adult sci-fi novels, and fantasy ones too, are often incredibly dense (I would like to exclude A Song of Ice and Fire though!). Young adult science fiction and fantasy, though, is often creative yet straightforward, and the characters typically experience relatable struggles even when the settings are unrecognizable.
Lastly, I think young adult fiction is so appealing to readers because it brings us back to a time of intense emotion. I have this conversation with my students all the time: when you’re a teenager, every event is a big deal. Everything that happens to you is either the best or the worst thing that’s ever happened; there’s no middle ground. As we get older, and our brains mature, our emotions lose that ferocity. When we read YA, we’re often thrown into these hyper-stressful situations, often set in fantastical settings, and some potent emotions bubble back up to the surface in a way that’s exciting. Isn’t that the point of reading in the first place?
So, the next time you head to the bookstore (or support your local bookstores virtually!), check out the YA section. If you’re not a frequent flyer here, I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find a new favourite. If you’re looking for suggestions, check out our great reviews of YA titles on The Journal!
Rachel Gomes is a 30-something high school English teacher who lives with her high school sweetheart-turned-husband and their son. Rachel is a voracious reader who loves to learn and has her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. She’s happiest listening to podcasts and talking to friends about the latest news in nerd culture.
Favourite book: Don’t make me choose between A Song of Ice and Fire and Harry Potter
Favourite brunch spot: The Farmer’s Table
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