I spent three years working at a bookstore and I am an avid YA consumer and I have noticed a trend amongst the reading community. Young Adult lit seems to be treated like a second class genre. I had what some people might call “real” adults come up to me to buy YA and say things like, “This isn’t for me, this is for my daughter.” or my personal favorite, “I don’t read this junk it’s for kids, this is a present.” My question is why? Why do people feel the need to justify YA purchases, is it so bad to read something aimed at teen to twenty year olds? And what does this say about how we treat the YA demographic? Some of the most powerful books I have ever read qualify as YA. I even read middle grade novels, in fact Harry Potter and Percy Jackson are two of my favorites, and they are aimed at middle schoolers, yet, I am not ashamed.
This also poses another interesting question, why don’t adults feel like they need to justify purchasing books like Harry Potter but God forbid they buy John Green? I honestly saw more older adults buying YA than teenagers and I didn’t see a problem with it. A lot of adults also confessed to me that YA was their guilty pleasure. I was once told something very interesting by one of my coworkers, she said to me that she didn’t like the term guilty pleasure because it insinuates that you should feel guilt for something that brings you happiness. I have never thought of that term the same way. She was right, why should we feel guilty over the things that bring us happiness?
I also don’t like bashing particular YA books, not even Twilight. I understand that Twilight can be viewed as promoting unhealthy relationships, but I am not in the business of judging people’s tastes. There are definitely YA books that I don’t enjoy, but I will never judge a person by their tastes. Plus people really should think about the wide range of books that fall into the YA category, we have anything from Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson to Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. How could someone consider a category with such a wide range of different styles of literature childish?
In my journey of trying to understand why people hate the YA genre so deeply I stumbled upon a deeply concerning article titled, Against YA by a Ruth Graham. Graham’s assertion is that you can read what you want but you should be embarrassed if you read something written for children. My first issue with this smear campaign is that there is a ton of “children’s” literature that is highly respectable and sophisticated. For example, The Hobbit was written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s children as a fairytale, but this is on most “Top 100 Books To Read In A Lifetime” lists. Do you think scholars who adore The Hobbit are ashamed to read something written for Tolkien’s children? Probably not. My next issue with this article is the example Graham used as a representation for the entirety of the YA category. Graham picks The Fault In Our Stars, which to be honest I absolutely hated. But, I have the brain capacity to recognize that this book means something to people, and probably for a good reason. Also, the author has a weird bone to pick with the typically concrete endings in YA, Graham seems unhealthily obsessed with the idea that more YA needs to end in ambiguity, as if that is what makes great literature. I hate ambiguity in a novel and I always have, say what you mean or why freaking say it? I read my fair share of books in the literary “canon” and I can tell you that a lot of them are boring and outdated, not to mention don’t encompass a lot more than one major demographic. I hated reading Toni Morrison and Shakespeare, it is not the stuff for me. Nevertheless I got my English degree and read all the canonical shit OSU could throw at me. Graham doesn’t take into consideration haunting stories like The Book Thief, which was shelved as YA where I worked and quite frankly has been one of the most powerful books I have ever read.
I guess I am here to tell anyone who is similar to me that you should not be ashamed to read what you like. Older generations are constantly bitching that people don’t read enough anymore, so get out and read. But, most importantly, read what you like or you will grow to loathe reading.
I am curious to hear someone else’s take on this. Do you agree with me? Or do you think that YA is something that “real” adults need to move away from? I personally love this genre and I’d love to hear from both sides. Let me know in the comments.