It’s funny how frequently we feel we need to defend our reading choices. At least, I do. And, it seems others do too based on the amount of articles and posts I read with explanations. Specifically, we feel the need to justify why we read Young Adult fiction when we are more adult than young.
I saw another one today, scrolling through my Facebook feed, talking about why this particular reader loved the genre even though they were well out of the age group. It got me thinking. First, why do I love the genre so much? And, second, why do we need to defend what we read?
I’ll get to the first question shortly.
Why do we defend what we read? It isn’t just YA readers that defend their choices. Romance readers, comic book readers, erotica readers. Basically, anything that falls outside mainstream literary fiction often gets criticism simply for being enjoyed. You don’t hear many people criticizing an avid Jane Austin fan. But tell them that yes, in fact, you are a 38 year old Harry Potter fan, and people think you’re as loony as Luna Lovegood.
There can be a snotty elitism in the literary world. A look down your nose attitude at someone enjoying reading for the *gasp* joy of reading. It exists in all spectrums of life, so it would be crazy to think it doesn’t exist in the world of books. Disappointing isn’t it?
That isn’t to say I don’t find enjoyment or even brilliance in classic fiction. I do. Literature has many facets in it’s brilliant structure. I simply believe that one does not outshine another.
So why do I love the genre so much? YA is misunderstood outside of the YA world. These aren’t books written solely for teenagers. Yes, the protagonists are teenagers and they are written with a teenage audience in mind. But these books are still so much more.
I went to a book conference last year that held writing seminars. One of the things I remember most was from a YA writing session. The author said, and I’m summarizing here, essentially a character in YA has to make the wrong decision at least twice.
This one sentence has stayed with me. I think about it when I write. I think about it when I read. And I think this is why I like Young Adult fiction so much.
These characters don’t do what you want. They usually do the opposite. They are defiant and willful and stubborn. They make bad choices. And wrong choices. And the right choices in the wrong ways. Sometimes, these choices lead to devastating consequences. Sometimes they lead to victory. But the road to either end will be messy.
I like messy. Real life is messy. I don’t relate to characters where everything goes right and they all live happily ever after. It isn’t real for me. I can enjoy a happy ending, but when it’s so predictable I’m rolling my eyes as I finish the book. Well, that isn’t enjoyable to me. I like a book that makes me think about the characters long after I’ve reached the conclusion. I like it when I can’t rate a book right away because I have to digest what I’m feeling.
My teenage years were, let’s say turbulent. I did not make the right choices. I did not go down the right path. I probably would have joined the Death Eaters or the Erudite. I remember feeling lost. I remember feeling alone.
I also remember losing myself to books. At that time, there wasn’t a whole lot in the way of YA. Which meant I read a lot of books that didn’t have characters I could relate to. I could read childish fantasy, or adult fantasy. I could read Nancy Drew or adult mysteries. I did read a lot of Stephen King and Dean Koontz because my dad read a lot of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. And I love both those authors today. But, if only I had some characters I could really, really relate to. I could have used them.
Harry Potter was the first series I remember devouring since I had a serious obsession with The Babysitter’s Club. Going to Hogwarts reminded me of falling in love with a fictional world. I had that with Narnia when I was ten, I had it again at 18.
Now, it’s true, I can find these things in any genre. I can find characters that make bad choices and surround me in magical worlds. So, I’ll cut to it. Young Adult novels are just fun. I can’t explain it any better than that. I can go into lengthy discussions about the gritty realism of YA characters versus other genres, or how themes and morals are more focused, or why bad decisions are palpable in an adolescent rather than an adult. But, in the end, it boils down to fun.
No matter whether the book makes my heart race, or tears my heart out, I have a hell of a ride throughout. They are wild, and daring, and imaginative. I like reading about monsters outside of a horror novel. Or about witches and vampires in a story that isn’t really about sex. I like how they take these elements and give them heart.
Perhaps they do remind me of being young. Of having your entire life ahead of you, and how free that felt. I read to alleviate stress in my life. I read to relax. I read to kick start the part of my brain where creativity gives me more energy than coffee. So, yes, sometimes I just want to sit back and enjoy the ride.
There will always be room