By Guest Blogger & Author, M.K. Hutchins
It seems like every month or so, some big website publishes an article railing on Young Adult fiction. It’s too dark. It’s too frivolous. Why would adults want to read this? Don’t teenagers have, like, zits and cooties? Why would mature adults want zits and cooties? Sometimes YA is also framed as literary junk food. Your brain will get fat, the argument goes. And besides, only kids like cookies slathered in chocolate ice cream with salted caramel sauce. Right?
It always strikes me as a bit ridiculous. I’m a fan of good stories wherever I can find them (also a fan of salted caramel), and YA as a genre has a lot going toward creating gripping stories. The whole coming-of-age thing, so ubiquitous in YA, allows for huge amounts of character change and growth that can be highly satisfying to watch – like Dashti’s journey in Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days. YA also tends to focus on one character’s viewpoint, pulling us inside that person’s head. When I turned the last page of Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall or Cracked by Eliza Crewe, I could still imagine the way Odilia or Meda would say something.
A younger audience also means the reader isn’t expected to indulge an author in long passages of irrelevant navel-gazing. The pacing tends to be tight – it actually reminds me a lot of short fiction (which I also love, but that’s another topic). Teenage years often seem filled with angst and melodrama, and YA accordingly doesn’t shy away from big plots with big stakes that make for immediately captivating situations. Both Kat Zhang’s What’s Left of Me and Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst had me biting my nails from the first pages. Yes, I stayed up too late at night to finish those books. Contemporary fiction is a hard sell for me, but even when I step in that direction, novels like Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt still deliver high-stakes situations. What could be more important, after all, than deciding who you’re going to be and reclaiming your identity? Even though Going Vintage doesn’t touch anything more spectacular than a bad break-up, what happened felt as important as a march through Mordor.
In giving me big situations, YA often tells stories that stick with me and make me think. After finishing Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games, I remember looking at the green lawn and bushes outside my apartment complex. Non-edible, decorative plants carpeted the ground. At that moment, I realized I live in the Capitol.
Boundaries between genres are also looser in YA, which means we can have books like Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Part sci-fi, part fairytale retelling, with a dash of Star Wars-esque magic, it’s a mash-up that wouldn’t conveniently fit on any adult bookshelf. And, really, haven’t you always needed to read about a cyborg Cinderella?
Sometimes I see people defend YA by pointing out the books that are most like adult fiction, or the most serious books. I just want to point to all of it. The serious, the funny, the dramatic, the thoughtful. There are so many different things going on in YA, I have a hard time imagining anyone hating all of it.
And I’m sure my particular reading tastes have skipped over swaths of YA, too. Whether you’re a young adult or not, what are your favorite parts of the YA genre? Favorite books? I’m always looking for something great to read.