I Love YA Fiction
Confession time: I love fiction written for Young Adults. Let me explain why.
When I was in middle/high school, YA was really starting to come into it's own as a genre. Dystopian series and Paranormal Romance were especially thriving (The Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, etc. etc.). Some of these books were excellent, but the themes and styles definitely got repetitive. In the years since I've become an "Adult," YA has expanded even more. The genre is increasingly accepting of stories about queer love, police violence, religious differences, immigration, and many other previously taboo topics. YA fiction lets diverse authors write for a diverse readership. Back when we went to bookstores, I would go to the YA section and wish these stories were published at a time when I could read YA fiction. Yes, technically I can still read YA, but as an adult getting a degree in English Literature, I'm supposed to be reading "the classics."
There's a perception in society that YA books aren't "real" books. We stigmatize YA, in large part because it is mostly enjoyed by teenage girls. Remember when Twilight first came out and everyone (including me) ridiculed its fan base? It wasn't about making fun of the book itself. It was about making fun of the people who loved it. That attitude was, and continues to be, firmly rooted in sexism and ageism. As a more self-aware adult, I'm ashamed of jumping on the Twilight-hate bandwagon.
I've mentioned before that the canon excludes books written for children or young adults, despite the fact that many of them are well-written stories that tackle difficult issues like substance abuse, mental illness, sexual assault, racism, sexuality, gender identity, death of a loved one, etc. In fact, some YA books address these issues far better than so-called "real" novels. For instance, the book Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is considered a staple in high school classrooms, even though, in my opinion, it features poor representation of mental illness. Catcher in the Rye is a coming-of age story, like many YA novels, so what raises this book to the level of adult canon-worthy literature? Does it have anything to do with the white male author? The white male character? Why doesn't Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give receive the same respect? Why is an incredible novel about racism, police brutality, and trauma relegated to YA status? If we want to expand and update the literary canon, we have to start asking ourselves these questions.
For the record, I don't think there's anything wrong with aiming your book to a certain age group. It's also important to be clear when a book's contents may be inappropriate for a child or young teen. People should be able to make informed decisions when it comes to deciding what to read. The problem occurs when separating certain books turns into stigmatizing certain books. To put it simply: people should read what they want to read. It is not our role to tell someone that something they enjoy is bad or dumb or a waste of time. A book doesn't have to be "real" literature to be well-written or worth-reading. I think sometimes we all, adults especially, forget that what is important is for people to enjoy reading, no matter what book they choose.
Personally, I'm going to continue to read "the classics," the "real literature," but I'm also going to read horror, pulp mysteries, cheesy romances, and YA novels with characters that represent me. And I am not going to be ashamed of loving what I love.