Why I Love Young Adult Fiction

I was never really allowed to be a teen coming of age and stumbling and making mistakes and doing things that weren’t wise. Reading YA provides a glimpse of what I missed.
Publish date:
January 16, 2012
books, young adult, fiction, YA, literary snobs

I like to read. This news probably doesn’t shock you.

Right now, I’m reading a lot of young adult literature, for a number of different reasons. For one thing, it’s what I’m in the mood for. There’s something about YA that I am wanting or needing right now, so I’m rolling with it. And I’m really enjoying it.

When I think back on the greatest books I’ve read recently, they are all YA; "The Fault In Our Stars," "Cinder," "Shine," "Guardian of the Dead," and the Chaos Walking trilogy, to name just a few.

Some people sneer at me for reading so much YA, and I sneer right back at them, because they are caught in the artificial divide between “children’s” and “adult” literature.

It’s a pointless, ridiculous, artificial divide much like the one seen between “genre fiction” and “literary fiction,” like one is somehow superior to the other. Sadly, a lot of people seem to buy into it and firmly believe some books are better than others.

There’s a lot of YA that is absolutely terrible. There’s also a lot of adult fiction that is truly awful. Just like there’s genre fiction that is fantastic, beautifully written and amazing, along with literary fiction that is just not even worth opening the front cover.

It’s not that a book is magically superior to another book because of how it’s been categorized; it’s that some authors are good authors and others are not.

"The Hunger Games" got a lot of press last year, but "Chaos Walking" is actually a much better series, if you want my opinion. They are both about love and coming of age and confronting a terrifying world, but "Chaos Walking" is lyrical and has interesting plot devices and strong characters and I just drowned and flailed around in the deliciousness of the writing. I didn’t want it to end. I stayed up ‘til all hours reading and quivering with delight.

"Shine" was so deeply atmospheric that it felt like eating a wedge of super-rich chocolate torte. I had to force myself to go slowly because I knew I’d regret dashing through it, but I still finished it in a single night. "The Fault in Our Stars" made me crack up, frightening the cat, before tearing me in two and stomping on the pieces. I could go on, but I won’t.

The point is that I experienced deep, intense, visceral reactions to these books because they were fantastic books. These were not books that “transcend genre” or “could be enjoyed by adults too.” They are just good books. Straight up, no fooling.

"Chaos Walking" was recommended to me by a bookseller who, well, I am terrible at guessing ages, but I would estimate she’s at least in her 40s or possibly 50s. She reads primarily literary fiction and has pretty sophisticated reading tastes. And she was so enthusiastic about "Chaos Walking" that her whole face lit up when she told me about it.

When I was a kid, I graduated from the middle grade section to adult fiction pretty quickly; while YA was a very well-established genre by then, the bookstore didn’t have a super broad selection because it hadn’t exploded like it has in recent years. I was reading “adult” books because they more appropriately suited my tastes and needs as a reader, and my father didn’t have any ridiculous restrictions on what kinds of books were “appropriate” for me, thankfully.

I was going to say that I wished this kind of YA had been around for me when I needed it, and that I’m glad it’s around now for kids who do, but the fact is that I obviously still need it, as hokey as that sounds. I know I still need it because I’m reading it and loving it and getting something out of it. I am watching characters come of age and grow and learn things and I am taking something away from it. In its own way, YA is helping me relate to people more effectively.

I missed much of that critical age of my childhood, pretty much skipping straight from middle school to college. People used to say I was 13 going on 30 like it was a compliment, and I guess it was, in some ways.

But it also meant that I was often horribly awkward and out of place, struggling to figure out where I fit in, and there were heavy expectations on me because of my perceived maturity.

I was never really allowed to be a teen coming of age and stumbling and making mistakes and doing things that weren’t wise. I missed that part of my development. Reading YA provides a glimpse of what that was like for other people so I can understand them more deeply, and it helps me see what I missed.

Also, of course, I have kind of a thing about preferring to read books that are actually good. And the YA I’m reading right now definitely meets that criteria. If I’m going to invest my brainmeats in you, spend time with you, lie awake at night with you, you’d better damn well be worth it.