Young Adult Fiction (or YA, to those in the know) is defined as stories written for and marketed toward adolescents and young adults — with “young adult” considered roughly (and sometimes controversially) ages 14 to 21.
My first encounter with fiction aimed specifically at children occurred during my elementary school years, when I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books. Most of the books in the series could probably be called Children’s Literature (because the characters are younger and the subjects not necessarily intense), but they are relevant to younger teens as well as nine and ten year-olds.
Since first reading the Little House series, I’ve been hooked on YA. I think that if I were able to read only one genre for the rest of my life, Young Adult would be my choice.
Why YA is great
The main reason I like YA so much is that its books often deal with fantastical characters and subjects. Most adult literature (Fantasy and Sci-fi aside) leaves no room for wonderful things like magic, or for creatures like dragons, elves, or fairies.
YA authors rarely shy away from more “real” aspects of life. The ages at which such books are targeted can be very trying, whether it’s about puberty, first love, bullying, or any other number of subjects. As a young(er) person, I always found it comforting to read about characters whose thought processes and experiences mirrored by own. It made me feel that the things I was experiencing were normal — which is a feeling for which many young teenagers are desperate.
Despite some of the tales’ complexities, I find that many YA stories are, in the end, rather simple: bad is generally punished, and good is generally rewarded. The books may deal with serious subjects like war and death, but overall they end well and/or happily. Being an adult can be scary sometimes, so I like reading about a world in which things are simpler.
Lastly–and I know, this is cliché–the characters in YA fiction tend to end up paired happily with someone they love. I’ve always loved reading about love, and nothing about a book bothers me more than that when two people who should be together, aren’t.
I love Young Adult Fiction because it’s adventure, love, and magic — all presented to an audience who believes in these things, and believes in the beauty of the world and of destiny.
The problem with YA
Although I love YA, I’m not blind to its difficulties.
A few of these issues are logistical. The definition of “young adult” can be rather slippery. As I mentioned before, the typical range defined is 14 to 21. But the experience and mindset of a 21 year-old is very different from that of a 14 year-old. Is it a good idea to lump such a range of experience into one group, and market all books in that group to all the ages in that range?
Closely related to the definition problem is that of age-appropriateness. Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart is labeled YA; but then so is Stephanie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn. Do they really discuss the same subject matter? Are they both really recommended reads for a 14 year-old? Would a 21 year-old enjoy them both?
The genre is amazing, but I don’t think it always prepares its readers for real life. The endings of most YA novels are wrapped and presented in a pretty bow, with all characters dealt with appropriately. He gets the girl; she gets the boy. The war ends, and new beginnings are apparent.
How often is life tied up in a bow? Does presenting the world in such a rosy hue do young people a disservice?
Why YA is important
Young Adult Fiction is an extremely important genre, because it’s often a person’s first introduction to stories and storytelling — what you read as a young person shapes who you become as an adult.
I often say of myself that I’ve read too much, and that all that reading has altered my perception of the world.
I tend to go through life channeling Lizzie Bennet (although she’s not YA), which leads to a bizarre sense of propriety intertwined with my love of sexual psychology and my obsession with badassery (Thursday Next, Anne Bonny, Katsa the Graceling).
And yet I return again and again to books, especially to YA. Because it makes me happy, whether or not it prepares me for real life.
What do you think of Young Adult Fiction? Did I miss anything, good or bad? If you could only read one genre of book for the rest of your life, which would it be and why?