Why I Adore Young Adult Fiction
If you’ve read my bio or been tracking with me for a while now, you know I mainly write young adult historicals and historical fantasies. If you were to look at my shelves right now (or the Rachel's Reads tab), they’re an interesting mix of historicals such as Roseanna M. White, Kristy Cambron, and Jocelyn Green; and quirky, unique fantasies such as Nadine Brandes, Kara Swanson, and Sara Ella.
Last month, I read an article by blogger Olivia G. Booms about why she is not a fan of YA. It was a well-written article with some excellent points and she laid it all out very well. I highly recommend giving it a read and giving her blog a follow. https://oliviaspenn.wordpress.com/2022/09/12/why-im-not-a-fan-of-ya/
I agreed with everything she said in the article. But once I finished reading, I couldn’t help but sit there and think, “But what about this book? And this author? And this . . .?”
I’m not discounting what she had to say. She was absolutely correct in her assessment.
Olivia’s observations brought her to the conclusion that YA is no longer worthwhile. My observations have brought me to the conclusion that YA is wildly worthwhile. While she sees these weaknesses of the genre as a whole, I’m immersed in that genre and can see all the authors trying to change it.
Here are three reasons why I adore YA fiction.
YA is more creative than other genres.
I see originality in YA books that I don’t see anywhere else.
Who else would have thought to recreate the story of Guy Fawkes in a version of 1600’s England where everyone can control colors? (That would be Fawkes by Nadine Brandes, by the way.)
As adults (and I can say that because technically I am one), we suddenly find ourselves boxed in by certain expectations. If you don’t conform to those expectations, you become the spectacle of much scrutiny and concern. As a result, we often become worried about fulfilling those expectations and lose sight of our whimsy.
YA strips all those expectations away. It’s a safe space to break the rules, to be crazy, to be weird, to bounce off the walls, to learn to fly.
YA is more open-minded than any other genre I’ve experienced. Authors and readers alike are willing to try things that are completely ludicrous, that would never work. Sometimes those things majorly flop. Sometimes those things become our next favorite read, stories we carry with us the rest of our lives.
We’re willing to try anything. And when it doesn’t work, we’re willing to pick ourselves back up and try something different.
In the words of Angela Lansbury in Mary Poppins Returns, we “choose the secret we know before life makes us grow. There’s nowhere to go but up.” (And if the voice of Mrs. Potts says it, then how can it be wrong?)
YA is willing to discuss the hard things of life.
People complain that YA is entirely inappropriate. So is anything else. Seriously. You will never find a genre of book where you do not find both ends of the spectrum—wildly inappropriate books and squeaky clean books and everything in between.
I think people go harder on YA because of the age bracket it’s written for, and it makes sense. YA (along with MG and children’s) targets some of the most formative years in a person’s life. The wrong books can have a terrible influence.
But the right books can have all the influence.
Which is why it’s such a big deal that YA is frank about the hardest things in life.
More than any other genre I’ve seen, YA is willing to discuss topics such as abuse, depression, anxiety, suicide, self-harm, divorce, sexuality, disabilities, bullying, and mental health.
As we grow up, we’re expected (or we believe we’re expected) to have it all figured out. When someone asks “how are you,” we’re supposed to be able to wholeheartedly answer “fine.”
YA doesn’t expect that. It lets you be a mess. And it sits next to you in it. Maybe it helps you find a way out. Maybe it just points to a firefly in the corner. Maybe it just sits and is quiet for a while.
I read the book Shadow by Kara Swanson over the summer of 2021. Though some people immediately leapt upon it, claiming it was too dark, that book touched me in a way not many stories ever have. I was going through something extremely hard and all the feelings that came with it. I understood this feeling of a shadow tearing me apart. And that book came alongside me and helped me find the light in the darkness. I still read that book when I’m discouraged.
Has YA failed in some of its representation of this hard stuff? Absolutely. The book Thirteen Reasons Why and the resulting TV show were meant to come alongside suicidal people and instead wound up glamorizing suicidal thoughts and actions. And that’s only one example.
But at least they’re willing to talk about it. At least they let you be not okay and don’t judge you for it. At least they try.
And if more people committed to using this power for the most good that they can? Can you even imagine?
YA brings deep messages into no man’s land.
I once read an article where an Academy Award winning director claimed that Marvel Cinematic Universe movies “aren’t cinema.” Other directors and actors concurred that it “diminished quality of films” and that watching one didn’t gain anything, enlighten you, or inspire you at all.
Actors who had been in the MCU films immediately came back.
Tom Holland, who played Spider-Man throughout the films, said, "I’ve made Marvel movies and I’ve also made movies that have been in the conversation in the world of the Oscars, and the only difference, really, is one is much more expensive than the other. But the way I break down the character, the way the director etches out the arc of the story and characters — it’s all the same, just done on a different scale."
Natalie Portman, who played Jane Foster in the Thor films, said, "I think that Marvel films are so popular because they’re really entertaining and people desire entertainment when they have their special time after work, after dealing with their hardships in real life."
Karen Gillan, who played Nebula in the Guardians of the Galaxy and later Avengers films, said, "I would say art is subjective, and so it is artistic to make a big project superhero film for sure — it's just a different type of art."
Why am I talking about this? Because YA is the same way.
Read those quotes again, but put YA in the blanks where it says Marvel films, or superhero films, or whatever.
We’re the MCU. We’re seen as a lesser form of storytelling because we like whimsical worlds and epic battles. We’re seen as nothing more than entertainment. It corresponds with what today’s world believes about young people. They believe we’re shallow, that we have nothing of value to say.
Think about it, though. Between an Academy Award nominated film (with the exception of Little Women, of course, it's a legend that everybody should see regardless of the awards, I shall write about it someday) and, say, The Avengers, which one are you more likely to have seen? So, which one has been more likely to speak to you?
The fact of the matter is, a fun, whimsical story is what people look for after a long day of just being human. It gets our foot in the door, it gets us in.
And once we’re in, whimsy has a way of speaking to people that nothing else can do. Whimsy just might be one of the deepest things there is—it allows us to say the things we’re never allowed to say out loud without ever saying a single word.
For the record, I do walk out of some MCU films with inspiration for my real life. YA does the same thing. Only different.
This is why I write YA. This is why I write at all.
I believe God is still up to His elbows, working through the YA genre. He works through books that may or may not ever acknowledge Him, so imagine what He can do with books and authors who do, whether that be explicitly or implicitly. He's not done with YA, and He has given YA some unique superpowers (to continue the MCU analogy) to reach people in some of the most formative years of their lives.
I'm honored that He has called me to be a part of this particular mission.
What about you? You don’t have to love YA. Why do you love books? Let me know your adventures in the comments below! (And remember, give Olivia a follow, she has more than earned it!)
Hi, I'm Rachel! I'm the author of the posts here at ProseWorthy. Thanks for stopping by!