A friend once asked me if I had read Catch 22 - a popular work of Classic, Adult fiction. I replied, no, I hadn’t, and that I mainly read Young Adult fiction. Then she said to me, “oh, I stopped reading that when I was fourteen.”
It had me wondering why YA fiction is devalued by people of every age group. Adults of all categories and even teenagers label YA as “easy to digest” and “lacking in substance.”
I feel as though I’ve read enough Young Adult literature in my life to argue against this. YA books mean a lot more to me than just words scrawled across pages to complete a story, my life has been influenced by many Young Adult books.
The Fault in Our Stars, The Book Thief, The Hunger Games, Twilight; all books that have been/are in the process of being turned into a successful movie franchise because of a successful YA book. It seems that the only way a movie can do as well as Twilight, is if the built-in fan base is large, and strong. Twilight made it to the New York Times Bestseller list before it was ever made into a movie. People read the book and watched the movies because they felt a connection towards them. While I could easily argue that Twilight tends to “lack in substance,” I still read those books, felt a connection towards them, and loved them all the same.
Isaac Marion, author of Warm Bodies, whose book was also turned into a successful movie, seems to have a problem with his own book being categorized into YA and made it very clear on his Facebook page in late 2012. "The only function the YA label can really serve is to warn adult readers, 'Stay away from this if you want substance.' Which is really unfortunate, because no doubt a lot of substantial books get buried by this label."
Growing up, I had a difficult time originally transitioning into Young Adult. I stayed in the middle grade genre and eventually gave up on reading until I discovered Twilight when I was thirteen. I find it hard to believe that a child could go from something as harmless as The Spiderwick Chronicles to an adult novel like Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons without being terrified. The Young Adult genre introduced me to things I didn’t even know were allowed to be in novels. Things like leaving your parents, and sex, and big decisions you’re not aware of as a twelve year-old. Twilight gave me the transition I was looking for, and I’m proud to say that I’ve been actively reading Young Adult literature ever since.
"I just think it's a ridiculous, pointless category," Marion says in regards to YA. He goes on to say that a child should simply read Children's literature and an adult should simply read Adult literature. "I don't see the purpose of this vague middle category."
So I wonder if possibly Marion is stuck in the 19th century when 'teenagers' didn't really exist, back when kids had to become adults in no time at all. Now that we’re given a period of time in our lives to find ourselves and grow, it’s appropriate that the fiction on the shelves in stores reflect that. If there is a genre for children and adults, why can’t there be one for teenagers too? And if YA novels can’t have “substance” then does that mean Children’s novels don’t either?
No, of course not. All novels have substance. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be published, or read, or turned into movies.
Young Adult literature does have substance, especially to the reader.
If there is one thing I can assure you of, it’s that Young Adult literature gives teenagers something to relate to. It’s something they can read and think “yeah, that happens to me too.”
Today, adolescents are dealing with more problems than ever; self harm, mental illness, eating disorders, peer pressure, and more. Young Adult literature addresses these issues and reminds readers that they're not the only ones; they are not alone. If people insist on devaluing a novel that may help a teen get through a rough time, then I insist they pick up Michael L. Printz Award winners - an award dedicated to YA novels that have achieved literary excellence. Among them are cult favourites like John Green's Looking For Alaska, John Corey Whaley's Where Things Come Back, or, recent Printz Honour Award winner, Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park.
In the end, reading is reading, and many people, especially young adults, just aren’t reading anymore. You could blame many things, but you have to believe that loving to read is about connecting with the characters written into the pages. The importance of YA isn't just for readers themselves, but for non-readers to love as well. Isaac Marion's comments towards YA literature have let the world discover the genre and while some might agree with his comments, YA novels continue to climb on the New York Times Bestseller list.