It’s an ongoing conversation. Is YA worthwhile? Respectable? Important? Is reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins as impressive as reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood?
There are so many arguments surrounding the validity of YA literature. Today, I wanted to put forward my views on this topic…
YA has a special place in my heart. It almost functioned as a gateway drug for me. Unfortunately, we’re not all born with an affinity for Charles Dickens’ work, Jane Austen’s or George Orwell’s – I needed YA to almost coax me into reading, and then encourage me into reading more (and more, and more…).
Without YA, I would not love literature as much as I do today, because it made books accessible and exciting for me.
However, YA is subject to a lot of scrutiny. Opinions like ‘it’s not real literature‘ or ‘it’s meant only for teenage girls‘ are not infrequent. Of course, there is the common stereotype that reading is a teenage girl’s hobby anyway, especially with the volume of teen romances that the YA genre pumps out every year. But YA is so much more than that.
Unfortunately, we’re stuck in a very black and white world – any grey areas are often met with disdain. Equally, any book that falls into multiple categories is, most often, forced into one – the one most applicable to it. And for these books, that category is inevitably YA, whether because of a younger protagonist or merely ‘coming-of-age’ themes. This completely undermines the actual genre of these books, from fantasy to horror, romance to dystopia.
Maybe YA has become synonymous with mushy teen romance novels. But it is so damaging to believe in this stereotype, because so many amazing books are therefore lost or ignored. The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Harry Potter, The Book Thief, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; all amazing books, all marketed as YA, and all missed out on by so many people because of this – including young boys taught that YA (or just reading in general) is for girls, young girls taught that they should only read books with pink covers, and adults taught that YA is for kids and teenagers.
In reality, YA is for everyone.
In my opinion, it shouldn’t really be a genre at all. If anything, a sub-genre.
This leads me onto my next point: does the label ‘YA’ or ‘young adult’ in itself undermine the quality of some modern pieces of literature? Does it limit the potential audience? Should it be eradicated so as to unsure unbiased and more widespread access?
Certainly, more people would probably read YA if it wasn’t called YA. There is such a stigma attached to it that it almost definitely puts readers off. When I was applying to university, I was almost embarrassed to mention any book classified as ‘YA’ incase the admissions tutors didn’t consider that real literature.
But of course, that it ridiculous. Of course, all books are ‘real’ examples of literature. But it’s so difficult to discern what is therefore respected or just dubbed ‘a kids book.’ The Harry Potter series is widely considered to be the best piece of literature ever published in the UK – but these books were never nominated for the Man-Booker Prize, for instance. Why? Perhaps because it’s considered a kids book, and therefore lesser. And yet so many adults across the globe read and loved Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and kept returning for all of its sequels.
So the question stands: does marketing a book as YA destroy its chance at respectability? Limit its audience? Belittle the quality of the writing? It’s a big possibility.
In this sense, then, we should just get rid of YA completely. But, in my opinion, that would allow for the loss of potentially the most important genre of literature. Because YA is not just important as a ‘gateway drug’ into bigger and better things (or more respectable or older novels) but is also important for so many other reasons.
One of these reasons is accessibility. YA allows almost everyone to see themselves on the page – whether its an image of them today or when they were younger. Even what they think they’ll be like in the future. YA has more representation that any other genre, in terms of ethnicity, sexuality, gender, religion, and ability – amongst so many other factors. It is so important to be able to see yourself in a book, or at least someone like you, and almost have your existence validated. It’s like a nudge or a pat on the back – it stops you from feeling so alone in the world. It helps you to feel understood.
Furthermore, YA novels help to develop empathy. The lessons taught by YA novels are unparalleled with novels typically marketed at older readers. But today, more than ever, these are lessons that should be learned by everyone. YA never shies away from a daunting or perhaps controversial topic. In fact, YA thrives off bringing the political to the page and simply calling people out. Think The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas or even The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Moreover, there is so much representation in terms of mental health, that I feel like some YA should be required reading. Think The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizinni, or even Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. All of these books teach us valuable life lessons. We shouldn’t restrict these lessons to young people, but encourage everyone – no matter their age – to pick these books up and learn these lessons for themselves.
Ultimately, I think YA is such an important phenomenon, and I am so lucky to have grown up in the golden age of YA. I am also so pleased that it continues to grow year on year. However, I am aware and saddened by the stigma attached to it. Maybe we should get rid of this genre completely, and market all books equally to allow for more widespread exposure and a broader readership.
Then again, that may be a ridiculous suggestion. Every book needs its market, otherwise it wouldn’t sell, right? My opinion is split…
So what do you think?
Let’s continue this discussion in the comments!
What are your thoughts on YA?