[Originally published at BookBear.info on September 18, 2014.]
Ok, so maybe ‘love’ is a strong word. Especially when it comes to my view of young adult literature (YA). But I’ve made considerable improvement since the pang of betrayal I felt when my local bookstore christened not one, but two shelves with the label “teen paranormal romance.” I hope I didn’t snort my dismissal too loudly because I’ve recently reached a sense of acceptance. A distinct lack of worry. An end of bitterness. It dawned on me that the popularity of YA is not the end of the world.
I know, I was surprised too.
For me, the first hurdle was a matter of content. When I think of YA, I typically think of fluff. Supernatural dystopian teen-angst laced with a hefty dose of schmaltz. Given the recent glut of moody vampire love, my typical gut reaction had been one of ‘ew’. But perhaps that was a little harsh.
First, let’s consider the audience. Young adult literature is intended for young adults. Teenagers. Maybe early twenties, why not? Is there anything actually wrong with writing novels geared toward their age group? Of course not. It can help fill that awkward gap between The Berenstain Bears and Brothers Karamazov. So that’s fine.
Next, let’s look at the style. YA has a tendency to be…well, not all that intellectually challenging. Then again, neither are large swaths of pop fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and romance. But they are entertaining. And while I enjoy wading into the deep end of existentialism as much as the guy, I’ll be the first to admit that even the most refined connoisseur of serious literature needs to pick up something lighter once in a while. So, is there anything wrong with writing entertaining stories suited to a teenage palette? No.
Besides, YA has never claimed to be literary fiction. Not that I know of, anyway. And for those of us who might have hoped otherwise, there’s always the possibility of a gateway-drug effect. You know the argument: it’s a slippery slope from Twilight to Interview with a Vampire to classics like (gasp!) Dracula… And from there its only a matter of time before they’re approached by shadowy figures like us, hawking hard-core Tolstoy from beneath our proverbial trench-coats, whilst our neck-tattoos proclaim “Prince Andre is my homeboy.” Do you really want that to happen to our youth?!
I sure as hell hope you do.
And yet, this notion soothes only about half of my reservations. That’s because, as everyone knows, teenagers aren’t the only ones reading YA. So what about the young-adult devotees who are no longer, shall we say, ‘young’? What about the soccer-mom obsessed with The Hunger Games? The thirty-four year old man who touts Harry Potter as the pinnacle of his literary experience? Not long ago I would have twisted my nose in the air and scoffed my disapproval. But no longer.
And it’s because of those two bookshelves.
While I might not have much use for teen paranormal romance, it does have an undeniable following. As does YA in general. But this isn’t a collapse of the reading world – it’s an expansion.
I have seen the passion with which YA readers devour books. I have seen the excitement and the fandom. And in short, I was unafraid. Reading for pleasure is becoming more inclusive. Anything that can inspire an interest in reading for those who would have otherwise abandoned the library, is something I can get behind. Just look at the long lines of people at the premiere of a popular YA sequel. Could such devotion to the art of the written word really be bad?
I don’t think so.
So there it is. Goodbye pretension, hello readers. The popularity of YA is not pushing the hands of the doomsday clock ever closer to midnight. Not by a long shot. For many, YA is the way into books – the spark – and I for one intend to fan the flames…cheering as it explodes.
We’ll read again. Don’t know where. Don’t know when. But I know we’ll read again, some sunny day…