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July 3, 2014

Gab Bag: Reading YA Without the Y

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.


Stephanie S. said...

I love reading YA because it helps me to make sense of the world and better understand it as I get older.
As a young adult, I find that YA books hold a lot insight to the problems I struggle with in the real world.
For example, Shannon Hale's Books of Bayern helped me figure out how to balance my time between my responsibilities and my desires.
Just like Isi balances Wind speaking with Fire speaking, I learned to balance my time between what I want to be doing and what I should be doing.
That is just one example of how YA books have major impact on their teen readers. Also, I want to win a book!

Emma A. said...

I am currently at that age where it is still acceptable to read YA, (not that there is ever an unacceptable age to read YA, but I just happen to be a little bit older than the main characters), but I am slowing moving into the territory of "do I move on to adult, or do I stick with YA which I love and am comfortable with."

My favorites, though include VA/Bloodlines, The Selection, The Lunar Chronicles, and The Winner's Curse.

I want to win a book!

Natalie (Never Trust a Duck) said...

I read YA because it's not only completely entertaining and enrapturing, but because the characters have influences on me on how to act or what to do in certain situations. While I may never have to face off against Sylph in Range or resurrecting Titans on Olympus, they teach me values. Augustus Waters taught me to live each day to the fullest, Katy Swartz to have a sense of humor in craptastic situations, Aaron Warner taught me that forgiveness is possible for both others and yourself. There are so many things YA books have taught me, granted, some are pure fun, but most incorporate adventure and things I can draw from into my own life.

Some of my favorite YA novels are All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, the Lux series by Jennifer L. Armentrout, The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke, and Crash into You by Katie McGarry.

I also want to win a book! :D

Valette M. said...

Thanks for this post!
I agree, there are so many pros to YA that aren't a part of Junior or adult. I also want to point that there is trash in any genre. Yes, there is some trash in YA, but there is trash all across the spectrum.
I want to win a book!

Rosebriars said...

One of my favorite parts of YA (and middle fiction) is that it tends to be cleaner. I try to "see the good in the world" and I find that *usually* rough language, violence, or sexual content are minimal and that which is in there is purposeful rather than gratuitous.

I really enjoyed 'The selection series' by Kiera Cass and Shannon Hale's graphic novels.

I want to win a book!