I am Not Ashamed to Read YA

Writing Rambles


I interrupt an otherwise pleasant Friday morning, to rant for a few moments about an article from Slate. First, you should check it out.

Against YA: Adults should be embarrassed to read Young Adult books.

Are you back? If you are a reader of this blog, you likely also read Young Adult fiction. Maybe you are a young adult yourself, or maybe you are also a 29-year-old mom and wife living in Texas and taking her kid to swimming lessons.

There is nothing wrong with the article, unless you count everything she says after:

“Not because it is bad—it isn’t—but because it was written for teenagers.”

No doubt her statistics on the amount of adults that choose to read YA fiction over Adult fiction are accurate. On one hand, she speaks to the larger issue of prolonged adolescents among twenty-somethings, which is a topic we should absolutely examine and discuss. The breakdown for me comes a few paragraphs below all that:

Let’s set aside the transparently trashy stuff like Divergent and Twilight, which no one defends as serious literature. I’m talking about the genre the publishing industry calls “realistic fiction.”

The two novels she calls out as “trashy” are paranormal romance and dystopian, and she touts realistic YA as being the only sub-genre worth discussing (though, still berating) at all. She then acts as if there is something wrong with reading for escapism or enjoyment. That reading as an adult has to be about more than that.

Reading can be anything you want it to be. It can educate, inform, inspire. It can help you cope with reality, face hard questions, create a new world to push boundaries and challenge accepted truths. Reading can be a form of entertainment, and in a world where entertainment comes by streaming video and instantly downloadable music, the thought that a book can still capture the mind so effectively that it competes with film or music is something we should all support.

I was raised on genre fiction. The first book I remember reading, and loving, was C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, but before that my mother read-aloud Charlotte’s Web, A Wrinkle in Time and all the Little House books. Genre fiction has shaped my mind and fueled my imagination well into my teens and twenties.

In fact, I still read mostly genre fiction. If it’s not YA then it will likely be science fiction or fantasy, magical realism or paranormal. And if that makes me an immature adult — still being a kid at heart, raising my own son to value his imagination, valuing my own imagination in a very pure way — then fabulous. Then yes.

Life is full of constant pressure to evolve, to suck-it-up, to make hard and fast choices. Reality is plagued by loss, by the reminder that the world we live in requires us to be brave, to work hard. Forgive me —or don’t — if I choose to read fiction for the sheer enjoyment of it. If I choose to write for teenagers, and to read extensively in the genre I write in, not just because I want to give young adults fantastic fiction they can relate to, but because I want fantastic fiction I can relate to.

I am 29-years-old and still honing my identity. I would argue that beyond the teenage experience young adult fiction is about the quest for identity. Who are we and how will we impact our world —whether our world is a small town in Texas or Middle Earth or Hogwarts — and what must we do to find out?

The author of that article goes on to say:

But even the myriad defenders of YA fiction admit that the enjoyment of reading this stuff has to do with escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia.

Why is that not enough? It seems she, and those who support this idea, expect adults to read fiction for some higher purpose. Many adults do and can. I would argue that I read fiction for a higher purpose. I read for the passion of reading. To look inside the mind of someone unlike me, or to see pieces of myself reflected. That can happen no matter the genre or age category.