Dyana Herron’s essay, “Why I Read Young Adult Literature,” is a fantastic look at what YA means for teen and adult readers alike. One of my favorite points:
“…when I began to read contemporary books written for young adults, I found a wealth of well-written, sensitive, imaginative, bold stories about individuals who are navigating a crucial, difficult time in their lives.
A time in which they are awakening to the fact that the world is not as safe as it may have seemed during childhood, in which they are developing identities outside their family units, in which they are having sexual awakenings, making best friends, losing best friends, falling in love, and — almost invariably — wondering if they are going to survive to experience something better.”
I think YA Lit could easily be called Coming of Age Lit or (if you want to get really literary/pretentious) Bildungsroman Lit. It’s about encountering the world and yourself for the first time. As with adult literature, the tone can vary from funny to serious, breezy to intense, and more. And most YA (not just the best) is about a character confronting something new and exciting/upsetting. How is that not engaging?
Herron goes on to talk about why she still reads YA even though her middle/high school days are over:
“The need for these kinds of stories isn’t something that goes away when we graduate with our advanced degrees, or start paying our own rent, or when there’s no one around to care how late our friends call. “
I’m certainly touched by characters in YA stories, and I doubt that’s going to change anytime soon. I think a lot of adult readers assume that all YA is Sweet Valley High or Gossip Girl. But that’s like assuming that everything in the general fiction section is by Dan Brown or James Patterson. There’s a wealth of material and emotion on the YA shelves, and I hope more people start opening themselves up to the genre.