Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Don't be ashamed to read young adult fiction


The other day one of my friends said how much she loved her Kindle, because "I can read a YA book without getting strange looks from others." The book that she was talking about? When You Reach Me, a fantastic new book that won this year's Newbery Medal for Children's Literature" (a book that makes a number of references to the above beloved book). I hate that people are ashamed of reading beautifully written, delightful, award winning books just because they come from the young adult section of the bookstore. I blame people like Malcolm Gladwell -- though he's a great writer, and I've liked all of his books, the man has some seriously, I'm sorry, there's no other word for it, FUCKED UP ideas of what young adult fiction is.* According to him, it's fine to plagarize it, because:
This is teen-literature. It's genre fiction. These are novels based on novels based on novels, in which every convention of character and plot has been trotted out a thousand times before.
This is a crazy insult to all young adult literature (and really, all genre fiction, why is calling it "genre fiction" a pejorative anyway?), but it's just one of the many insults that regularly gets thrown at young adult fiction. It's all stupid like Twilight; famous starlets and reality stars dabble in it because it's so easy to write; it's just a bunch of stupid books about girls and their problems, etc. All of this is bullshit, because young adult fiction is awesome -- so don't be ashamed to read it, and don't talk shit about it (or people who read it) either.

*I know, this is from a blog post from four years ago, but it still pisses me off.

I'm not going to waste time tearing down all of those ridiculous stereotypes, because they're ridiculous. Catcher in the Rye, one of the most famous and most read American novels, is young adult literature. So instead, let's talk about all of the ways that YA fiction is awesome, both for teens and adults.

There are lots of adults who read YA literature, as shown by this recent LA Times story, and this blog post from the Good Reads blog. All of these adults are reading these books because they have thoughtful engaging stories, and they give you a lot to think about and talk about. I started talking to a girl at a Christmas party this year that I didn't know that well, and it turned out that we both read a lot of YA, and that was enough to start us into a 20 minute long conversation about books that we had both read and loved, and books that we insisted that the other person should read, and ended with her insisting that we meet up a few weeks later so that she could give me a bunch of books that she knew that I would love.

Calling young adult literature genre fiction doesn't quite work, because there are so many genres and styles of literature within it. Do you want intense post-apocalyptic lit? Read The Hunger Games or How I Live Now. Do you like fun books about feminist teens coming of age? Then read The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks or just about any book by Meg Cabot. Do you want a scary book about boys on a road trip? Read In the Path of Falling Objects by this guy (who has such a scary voice that he freaked a bunch of us out at a simple book reading a few months ago). Do you like fun historical epistolary novels? Then read Sorcery and Cecelia. Do you like books like Special Topics in Calamity Physics and The Secret History? Read Jellicoe Road. Do you like books with unreliable narrators or about crime? Then read Monster. Do you want books about gay teens? Then read Boy Meets Boy or Empress of the World. Do you want to get into the mind of a girl who has been raped, or a girl with an eating disorder who is desperately trying to hide it from everyone? Then read Speak or Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. Do you want great books about music or drama? Then read any of these or these books. Do you want...I could go on forever here, but you get the picture.

In addition, so many young adult authors are awesome in and of themselves. There is Meg Cabot, who is the goddess of young adult literature, proudly proclaims herself to be a feminist, and has a fantastic blog. There's Sherman Alexie, who wrote the amazing and critically lauded Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian and just won the PEN/Faulkner Award. Sara Zarr, author of three incredible, thought provoking books, has a (not surprisingly) incredible and thought provoking blog, where she talks about writing, religion, music, body image, and lots more. Sarah Dessen writes books about girls and their families and lots more, and writes in her blog about parenting, pop culture, her love for Good Morning America and everything else. And there are a number of critically acclaimed writers who have written some young adult books with great results, like Joyce Carol Oates who wrote the intense Big Mouth and Ugly Girl.

Hey look, when the Wall Street Journal of all places, recommends young adult literature for adults, then it's really gone mainstream for adults. So the next time you feel like hiding that book that you're reading just because it has a teenager on the outside, just stop, think about how much you're loving reading that book, and how someone else who loved it too will smile when she sees you reading it, and don't do it.


  1. I love the Sorcery and Cecelia books. (There are three.) It helps when you are friends with someone who is studying to be a librarian in a middle school; she feeds my YA love.

  2. Malcom Gladwell also thinks Atticus Finch was a racist, so he can suck it.

  3. LOVE YA literature. The stories are amazing (the Hunger Games is one of the best books I've read EVER), and they're QUICK, so I feel like I'm actually getting something accomplished.

  4. I'm re-working my way through Roald Dahl books, so not only am I proud to read YA lit, I'm proud to read *children's* lit openly.

    Also, if YA lit is such crap, then why are so many books getting the grown-up treatment for their covers, or even more getting TWO covers to market at adult and youth audiences? Yeah, that's why I thought.

  5. Hear hear! I am an adult and I love to read YA. The most exciting, innovative books out there today are YA. Yay!

  6. This is perhaps the best post I've read on this subject. No disclaimers about what DOES suck. No patronizing air. Way to go, lady. Seriously.

  7. *stands to give you ovation*

    AWESOME post. Sharing it on twitter now....

  8. let me just say: HOLLA!!!!!! this is *exactly* why some friends and i started, because we felt like adult readers of YA needed a place to rant and rave about their fave teen books (um, and cocktails. we do love our cocktails) without feeling ashamed.

    seriously, if loving YA is wrong, i want to be as wrong as possible.

  9. This is wonderful! Thanks for writing it. There's also the ridiculous shame of being a YA author--sometimes I feel like I don't belong in the cool kids' club of "real" (i.e. adult lit) authors. Of course, that's ridiculous, but it's an inferiority complex very much supported by the prejudices and misconceptions about YA in general. I guess what we need to collectively do as YA lovers is work a little on our self-esteem. Because you know what? We're good enough, we're smart enough, and goshdarnit, people like us!

  10. WOOT WOOT!!

    amen to THAT.

    also: i think i love you now.