I can’t count the number of times that, when I have told people that I mostly read Young Adult books, they’ve turned to me and said something like: “Don’t you think they’re a bit trashy? When are you going to start reading real books?”
About three years ago, someone in the bookshop said that I was going to run out of YA books to read, and that I should start on adult. I bought a few adult books, and I did enjoy them, but fast forward to today and I’m still reading mainly YA. And wonderful YA is still being written.
I really hate the idea that YA and children’s books are somehow less worthwhile than the ones in the adult section. Okay, they’re pretty much all narrated by teens and young people. But what’s wrong with that? We have lives that are just as complex as anyone else’s, and we deserve a voice — we deserve to read about people who are also going through a period of testing boundaries and discovering yourself. In some ways, it seems to me the most interesting age a narrator can be.
Putting down YA books only puts down young people and their voices, when we should be doing exactly the opposite! When people start to say that we’re just mindlessly addicted to social media and don’t have any opinions beyond celebrities, it’s just discouraging us from speaking up.
Having a younger narrator doesn’t mean a book is any less worth reading, or any less interesting. In fact, YA books cover a wide range of complex, important themes but in a way that’s really accessible. Yep, a book can be readable and nuanced! Writing an awesome YA book isn’t any less work than writing an adult novel; there are just so many different genres within each of those brackets.
Maybe reading YA doesn’t require as much consideration as a novel with Victorian language might, but personally I think it’s really difficult to get a love for reading by starting straight with ‘classics’. I really appreciate that some people love them, but personally — and I say this as someone who has always loved books — they take me a while to get through, and a while to understand and get into.
But I’m not reading to learn life lessons, or how to write a book. I’m not even reading to improve my English. I’m reading to enjoy it. To experience stories beyond my own. Reading for pleasure doesn’t come from an adult telling you that you should put down the book you want to read and pick the ‘better’ one they’ve chosen for you instead. Discovering the stories that get you excited is so important, and it’s difficult to do that when your school limits what you can read by the complexity of a book’s sentence structure.
If you want kids to develop a love of reading, then let them read what they love. Perhaps reading one genre will lead to them becoming interesting in another, or perhaps they’ll just love that book — it doesn’t matter. Sharing stories is what matters.
I think that YA fiction is one of the most exciting, diverse genres — we definitely do still have progress to make, as we always do, not just within the books but in authors and publishing as well — and it’s so important for teens to be able to see themselves in books. YA can give a sense of belonging and validation. It can tell young people (and older people) that they’re not alone. There are just so many goddamn amazing YA novels out there.
So before you tell me that my favourite books are trash: maybe pick up a YA book yourself. You might actually enjoy it.