Young Adult Literature isn’t What You Think

A guest post by Jennifer Marcellus

The genre people enjoy shouldn’t determine whether or not others consider them intelligent. I always try to keep an open mind when people tell me they like a book or genre I don’t. Adults, especially academics, often struggle to withhold judgment when anyone mentions young adult literature. As someone who reads YA, I never understood what they find wrong with these books. Obviously, there are books like Gossip Girl and Sweet Valley High to put a bad taste in anyone’s mouth but I also realize these books are not all young adult literature offers its readers. James Frey, author of I am Number Four, started a company to churn out poorly written and predictable, assembly-line YA novels, perhaps for the sole purpose of proving my last statement wrong, but I haven’t given up hope. How can I when so many of my favorite novels live in the YA section?

Many books included in young adult fiction address serious social and personal issues like gang violence, coping with loss, sexual assault, depression, and physical abuse. However, young adult literature doesn’t just preach on social issues. They also teach youth how to handle certain situations and problems they face. Readers identify with these books because they connect more fully with the story and see they aren’t the only ones who might have to deal with certain issues.

To me, though, the role models YA offers readers—typically girls—are the most important aspect of the genre. I’m certain I’m not the only one hoping the owl with my Hogwarts letter got lost and will show up nearly ten years late. Many readers like me become so invested in these books that they gain not only an escape from their own life, but also find characters to admire. We become friends with Hermione from Harry Potter; Deryn in Leviathanteaches us how to live on an airship; we fight with Katniss and Peeta in The Hunger Games. And then, when these books end, we search for more books like them. Readers become dedicated to literature by discovering other similar books, both in and outside YA.

The lines between genres are blurred to begin with though. Bookstores and publishers change what section consumers find books based on the reactions of readers. When I went looking for The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I found it in general fiction instead of YA despite being set in high school and the numerous awards it received in the teen genre. The fact of the matter is critics overlook what YA offers when they make the blanket statement that adults shouldn’t read YA. These books spark serious discussions regardless of the audience’s age. When adult fiction is too artsy to bear, it’s nice to dive into YA where plot is the pilot and characters are emotionally realistic. Scholars need to revise their attitude against YA to exclude only poorly written books in the genre. They do this with every other genre, so why not YA?

Jennifer Marcellus majors in Professional Writing at Southern Oregon University and reads young adult novels between writing papers and reading classics.

About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels was released by Oxford University Press in March of 2020.
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1 Response to Young Adult Literature isn’t What You Think

  1. Courtney Pondelick says:

    Nice post, Jennifer! I entirely agree. I’ve found that some of the books which have defined my life–and those I keep coming back to and re-reading as an adult–are young adult novels. The messages are just as valuable as “adult” books. Not to mention that there’s quite a lot of adult “trash” novels out there, just the same as in the YA genre.

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