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Consensus is Building: It’s Okay to Read YA.

2012 April 24
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Photo by o5com on Flickr

When I enter a book on my Goodreads account, I use the review space not so much for reviews but for quick reactions, or a little color commentary. A while back I was singing the praises of one particular and highly awesome audiobook (by Richard Peck) and then very much lamenting the fact that most adults probably would not discover this treasure unless a child was involved. Too bad because, as we book-pushers know, the pleasure of reading transcends format, genre, and intended audience and can take many forms.

Who is ready and willing to read outside of their prescribed book market? Teachers, librarians, writers, booksellers, and those in the publishing industry. But what about Harry Potter you say? And of course, we now have The Hunger Games (at present, you can spot anyone from age 9 to 90 carrying that book). Does this mean that the wider world has begun to cast off the shackles preventing them from exploring the wonders of fiction designated for youth? I’m not ready to declare victory just yet. I realize that as a librarian, I am so immersed in my YA book evaluation, purchasing, face-out shelving, book clubs, blogging, and book talking that I’m slightly in danger of losing perspective on the world outside of book-centric circles. The real world: where high school teachers only deign to recommend and assign classics, where people have no idea what YA stands for, and where people assume they know what teen lit is all about and that it’s not for them. I’m happily in my librarian bubble where I get to interact on a daily-basis with all sorts of fabulous library users and excited teens who know exactly what I’m talking about.

Thus, I require evidence of the mainstream media and pop culture variety to really believe that the tides are turning. Sure, sure, The Hunger Games movie situation is good proof, but it’s just one book, and does one phenomenally successful book lead to wider readership of any kind? I think it does. I refer to it as the Harry Potter Effect. So here, in no particular order, are some further tidbits of the evolution-in-process, the building of consensus, if you will, that if it’s a good book people will read it, no matter the label.

  • First up is a personal anecdote: there is a hilarious, clever and informative blog dedicated to adult readers of young adult fiction called Forever Young Adult. They call spreading the love of YA books “YAngelism.”  I am so enamored of this blog and their widespread efforts that I recently ventured to a bar to attend the San Francisco edition of the in-person Forever Young Adult Book Club. Much to my surprise, there were no teachers, librarians, publishers, booksellers, or writers in attendance. I repeat: no professional book people. There was, aside from myself, an attorney, an artist and an IT professional.
  • photo by Sarah Enni

    A popular bookstore in Olympia, Washington granted adults their permission to purchase teen books and not pass them off as being for their kids. Their instructive sign garnered some attention when blogger Sarah Enni snapped a photo and put it up online.
  • We’ve got Hollywood in the mix of course.  Recently, The LA Times reported that the movie biz is scrambling and shelling out millions on YA titles. There are also many, many blog posts, like this post from Indiewire, speculating about what might be the next big blockbuster YA book-to-movie property.
  • Next, The New York Times. As I see it, this highly credible institution still has the power to lend legitimacy to the many issues of our day. And, lo! They recently did a big feature in their Room For Debate section entitled The Power of Young Adult Fiction, wherein a selection of respected columnists, authors and reviewers provided insight. Thankfully, they also sought out YALSA’s top executive to weigh in on the matter. Then hundreds of readers contributed their own comments.
  • On the fashion magazine front, Glamour Magazine recently told its readership (as pointed out by blogger and author Sara McClung) “Hey, It’s OK” to read YA!
  • On the non-fashion magazine front, Atlantic Monthly‘s The Wire delves into a much-needed exploration of the somewhat perplexing “YA” label including what it means now, and how it has changed over time in, “What Does ‘Young Adult’ Mean?”
  • Even retired folks are getting in the game! AARP Magazine recently featured a column titled “50 going on 15″ in which the author gives a few examples of “Teen Lit You’ll Love.”

You might have noticed that teen sections in bookstores and libraries have gotten larger and more prominent and that there is an ever-expanding array of YA books to choose from. Even still, if we look back, say, five years ago when Twilight was hugely popular, YA as a whole didn’t get this kind of attention. What other evidence have you come across touting the idea that it’s okay to read YA?

— Amy Pelman, currently listening to The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz and reading Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, and Let’s Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (whew).

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3 Responses
  1. April 24, 2012

    I write young adult fiction and as a reader I’ve always been drawn to the genre. I’m glad to know that I’ll no longer get the side-eye when I’m browsing YA book sections!

  2. April 24, 2012

    I see tons of grown ups (especially actual young adults — those in their mid-twenties or so) checking out YA at my library. I have noticed that they tend to put stuff on hold and pick it up rather than browsing the stacks — I’m not sure if it’s a time/ease thing or if it’s because they’re a little embarrased to be seen in the teen section!

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