Your Secret’s Out—You Like Young Adult Fiction
I know what you do late at night. You wait for your partner’s snores to start or your kids to be safely tucked into their beds, and using the cover of darkness you hide in the bathroom reading the latest Young Adult book like a boozy nightcap surrounded by candlelight.
This blog is a judgment-free zone.
With my recent nostalgic reads, of course I was bursting at the seams to talk about my trip down memory lane. Over the last couple of weeks, reading has been a frequent topic, and I mentioned this incredible eye-opening experience I had with Holes by Louis Sachar and the response was, “Yeah, I read it, when I was a kid.”
Later, another person—told me they stumbled upon a series from their favorite fantasy author they had somehow overlooked. They devoured it, but it didn’t feel like the author’s previous work they had read. The person’s voice got quiet and they whispered, “I found out it’s a YA series.”
I mulled that over for a moment and said, “Well, there’s nothing wrong with reading YA. That explains why you might not have liked it. You were expecting Adult Fantasy.” They admitted, “If I had known it was YA, I wouldn’t have read it in the first place.” Whaaat? This person didn’t just read one book, realize they weren’t digging it, and then stop—they read all three books in the series. That’s like ordering the same cheeseburger on a menu, eating it, complaining about it, and then doing the same thing two more times. If you didn’t like them . . . why’d you read all three?
Fast forward to another conversation, we’re discussing weekend plans, the other person’s like, “This is embarrassing . . . but we’re going to have a Twilight marathon.” Whoa. Pump the brakes. What’s there to be embarrassed about? I remember one of my best friends in high school let me borrow his copy of the first book. You heard me right, his copy. I sat in a lawn chair, pouring over those pages, eating up every single line like it was Halloween candy.
All this disdain and inherent shame just confuses me. Do you know who reads most of the YA out there? Adults! This has steadily climbed every year. On top of that, YA is one of the most requested categories of books from Literary Agents, they are actively seeking more content to publish.
If you’re not already hooked on YA, let me fill you in on what the rest of the cool club already knows.
Most people are aware that Young Adult fiction tackles coming-of-age themes, including the struggle of growing up (in my case, being dragged kicking and screaming into adulthood), and trying to understand one’s place in the world as a whole.
Millennials are always looking to go against the grain, balking at what previous generations consider “taboos”: visible tattoos, crazy colored hair, jam on biscuits and gravy (it’s a game-changer), and worst of them all—reading YA on purpose and liking it unabashedly.
Millennial adults, myself included, find that they resonate with the themes explored in YA. We’ve experienced a lot of the traditional markers of adulthood later than previous generations. From house buying, marriage, and having children, just to name a few. We exist in this “transition limbo” and we seek out stories that can speak to that because we’re still “coming-of-age” and YA feeds that need to be understood.
Young Adult offers a wonderful escape, like many other genres, but there’s another side to the escape. There are many times that window into a different world touches on heavy topics. Whether it’s relevant social issues or shortcomings from our childhoods, these novels offer perspective. It’s the opportunity for a reader to put themselves in another’s shoes and experience the consequences, positive and negative, from how the protagonists decide to deal with the conflict they face. Reading becomes a lesson in empathy. Not only for the character, but for the people in the reader’s life, and even maybe themselves.
The young protagonists in YA tend to have more hope than adult characters in novels. They haven’t seen a lot of the harsh truths that chip away that innocence we all start with, so they are a bright light for adults in the darkness. Because the characters are expressing their hopes and big ideas for the future, it rubs off on the readers in a positive way—and suddenly we’re hopeful, too.
There is genuine comfort to be found in Young Adult fiction. Sure, sometimes there are tropes galore, but those story devices exist for a reason. They’re the box mac & cheese of literature. As an adult, you know the cheese isn’t real, but one bite takes you back—immersed in childhood memories. There’s nothing wrong with seeking out YA, we bring a different experience to it now. Living in our current world of instability, it’s nice to put on the rose-colored glasses for a breather.
That’s why I say, be bold with your YA choices! Don’t avert your eyes when you buy the newest Cassandra Clare novel at the bookstore, don’t discreetly pick up your books on hold at the library. Chat up the employees and the librarians for recommendations. Wear that t-shirt inspired by Harry Potter, read Midnight Sun in public.