Slate journalist Ruth Graham said this week that “adults should feel embarassed about reading literature written for children.” We probably shouldn’t tell her that the example of the kind of author we grown ups ought to read, Charles Dickens, appears on many a teenager’s school reading list, so probably comes under the YA author category himself, at least in part. I think she’s wrong. YA has earned its place on the adult bookshelf amongst other genres and here’s why…
1: They’re fun
Yes, some people level this as a criticism of YA. But really, what is the point of reading something that’s impenetrable, or that bores you to tears, or that you just don’t connect with? Just so that others will think you’re highbrow? Remind me again, who is it that claims to be the mature readers – the ones reading with passion or those turning pages just to keep up appearances?
2: Common culture
People are living at home with their parents longer. They’re getting married and starting families later. Whether we like it or not, the window of adolescence is getting wider. This means that issues and themes that are important to you don’t just vanish at midnight on the evening before you turn 18. People in their 20s, 30s and even their 40s find themselves increasingly sharing life challenges and culture with those in their late teens. So is it really unreasonable for them to be drawn to fiction that reflects this? If anything, it’s those who sneeringly claim to be superior who make less sense. On the one hand, we’re encouraged to extend youth by buying anti aging products, going on gap years, travelling and all sorts before thinking of settling down. But on the other hand, we’re expected to exhibit the literary tastes of a middle aged professor?
3: Some themes are universal
Love. Ambition. The struggle of a hero against adversity. These are just some of the classic storylines that have been told through the ages. Why should we place less value on a particular interpretation simply because it’s expressed through the lens of youth culture? Is the BBC TV adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice automatically better than the version of Emma played out in the movie Clueless, just because the actors are older and dressed in historically accurate costume in the BBC version?
Is the story of Blodeuwedd in The Mabinogion superior to Alan Garner’s retelling in The Owl Service because he dares to transpose the story onto 1970s teenagers instead of mythical beings speaking solely in medieval Welsh?
Those who place so much importance on the appearance of the protagonists have no place accusing the YA genre of being shallow.
4: The future value of nostalgia
For older readers of YA, perhaps it is fair to say that YA evokes a certain sense of nostalgia. But it’s wrong to label this as simply a sign of a self indulgent nature. Like many other older YA readers, I have children. They’re not old enough to read YA yet. But by the time they are, I’d like to thjink that I’ll still be able to recall the kinds of emotions that drove me to search for the answer in books and that I’ll be able to empathise with them.
Yes, reading YA does remind me of when I was that age. But I’m wholeheartedly glad that my kids will have a much wider, higher quality pool of literature to find refuge in than the cheesy Point Horror books that lined the shelves when I was that age. And this simply wouldn’t have come about without a hefty chunk of sales being funded by adult readers with more ready cash to put into buying the books. I’m already wondering which titles I should save to pass on.
Not sure where to start?
If you’re an adult who wants to read YA fiction, but isn’t sure where to start, here are 3 books that I’d thoroughly recommend.
- A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge – this is more at the middle grade end of YA, but totally original and fantastic fun with a surprising level of sophistication. Read my review here.
- Little Brother by Cory Doctorow – this is a YA tech thriller, but it’s easily complex enough for adult readers and great if you like a healthy dose of scepticism in your fiction. Oh, and it’s free to download. Read my review here.
- Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – I haven’t reviewed this yet, but I will very soon. It’s fantastic. Ignore Ruth Graham, this is the perfect book to give you hope against adversity in a non-patronising way.