Hey, you there! Yes, you. The one with their fingers angrily hovering over the keyboard, about to add to the internet’s growing collection of articles about how Young Adult books are trash. They’re all just so vacuous and two-dimensional, you think, and if we all just read Dickens instead the world would be a much better place (not true: see the Victorian era). Let’s just slow down and consider this for a minute, shall we?
In this age of TV and internet and smartphones, you’d imagine people would be pleased that teenagers are reading anything at all. But apparently this isn’t the case. Apparently we should all be outraged and writing furious letters to The Times, because YA books are about nothing but vampire romances and (gasp) diverse characters existing, and therefore aren’t preparing teens for the real world at all.
Here’s the main thing that a lot of these ranters don’t consider: YA isn’t a single genre, it is an enormous category that simply covers books with protagonists who are (usually) young adults. Within that, a book can be literary, contemporary, historical, fantasy, sci-fi, mystery… It can be long or short. Funny or tragic. Good or bad. Tarring all YA books with the same brush is foolish when there are so many that you couldn’t even read them all in a lifetime.
I personally love reading YA, and here’s why: compared with many adult novels, the writing tends to be more concise, the plotting tighter and faster paced, the concepts higher. Most YA books don’t make you work to read them – instead they invite you in, and keep you hooked. Many of the adult books that these sorts of article writers suggest as “proper” and “challenging” can be a struggle to read. The best YA books teach you and challenge your perceptions in such a way that you barely even notice, because you’re so absorbed in the ride. They appear simple on the surface, but it’s like a swimming duck – all the work is going on underneath. You finish the book, come up for air, and your worldview has been subtly and irreversibly changed.
I could be here all day listing some of my favourite books that exemplify this wonderful balance perfectly (Northern Lights, Nation, The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Graveyard Book). I could tell the people who write these things that I grew up reading YA books and am now a perfectly well-adjusted adult (sometimes) and author. But I don’t think they really want to know. They’ve had all the time in the world to read more YA than just the opening scenes of Twilight, and they’ve chosen not to. Either they enjoy maintaining their stance for the sake of moral superiority, pageviews from angry readers, or financial gains (selling their own books, for example). Or, more worryingly, they genuinely believe that there is only value in adult literature.
And you know what? In some ways I feel sorry for those people, and think of all the incredible things they’re missing out on. In others, I just feel angry. Angry that they would be so dedicated to shaming young people for what they enjoy. Angry that they would seek to deprive young people of books that can feed their minds and their souls, or maybe even just make them laugh, and forget their troubles for a while.
Here’s the thing, though: I suspect that most young adults aren’t wasting their time with reading these obnoxious articles anyway. I certainly wouldn’t have been when I was that age. I was too busy reading great books.
This article was originally published on my old blog, on August 22nd 2016.