YA Apologia: There’s Great Literature Here
When I tell people that I’m a young adult librarian and that I get to read teen books all the time, I get one of the two responses: The first is excited: “Oh, cool! You get to read YA books! Awesome!” The other is skeptical at best and dismayed-and-eyeing-the-door-for-a-quick-exit at worst: “Oh. So, do you have to read Twilight all the time?”
I want to answer: “Yes. Twilight is the only book we’re allowed to read, stock, and recommend. Edward and Bella FOREVER!”
Ok, so I don’t usually say that — especially because I don’t like Twilight — but I try to explain to them why YA books are awesome. Here’s what I actually say:
Well, dear friend, YA books are a lot like adult books: they come in all different shapes, sizes, genres (you thought YA was a genre? Mistaken!), interest levels, reading levels, level of quality, etc. They basically have everything you have in other age distinctions like “Adults” or “Children’s.” Some of them are amazing and feature some of the best writing I’ve ever read. Some are good but they leave you wanting a bit more substance or there are some plot holes in the story. Some are terrible and probably should have never existed. Some carry you to new and different worlds and allow you to think outside of your own experience. Some contain the true words you need to hear precisely at that exact moment and it’s the most comforting feeling in the world. Some are forgettable.
Basically they’re just like all the other books and I don’t mean that in a bad way. I feel, dear friend, that you think that the YA descriptor automatically means terrible, derivative dreck. Sure, that’s out there. But that’s out there in the adult section, too, and maybe even on the New York Times bestseller lists! (I’m not naming names.) But it hurts me — and it’s offensive to the teens and adults who read YA — to instantly put it in those categories. Readers of YA deserve the same quality of books that everyone else gets. Just because sometimes they are about prom, or werewolves, or dystopian societies, or ghost hunters, or first loves, or summers at the beach doesn’t mean that they can’t be great. Plus, all those subjects? They have those for adults, too.
At this point I’m usually a bit huffy and red in the face and maybe I’m speaking more loudly than is necessary in polite company. It happens; I get annoyed. I want people to expand their horizons a bit and try something new. I try to ask the YA detractors what types of books they read and then come up with a YA recommendation. Often they don’t know that some of their favorite adult authors write YA, too. Or that — gasp! — that book that everyone has been buzzing about for over a year and a half, The Fault in Our Stars, is actually a YA book.
Lastly, if I can’t convince the YA haters to give it a chance then I make them read Chuck Wendig’s rant about YA and see if that doesn’t convince him. I think his final words are the truest: “Good story is good story no matter the age range.”
So go out into the world, lovers of YA lit, armed with your copies of Eleanor & Park, Rotters, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, or those battered copies of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and spread the good news of YA!
What are your go-to recommendations for those who think YA is all just forgettable paperback romances?
— Anna Tschetter, currently reading Spirit and Dust by Rosemary Clement-Moore