It's Not Just For Teens
Guest Post by Kimberly Kinrade
Chances are you or someone you love is addicted to Young Adult fiction. In all likelihood, you know many non-teens who fall into this category. For those who just don't understand the fascination, or who worry about your loved one's mental health, I'm here to help.
Young Adult fiction didn't start as a genre so much as an age classification for books. Depending on who you ask, (or what you read) YA lit falls somewhere between Middle Grade and Adult literature and is typically known for its teen protagonist going through coming-of-age type journeys.
However, it has sparked a reading revolution among a wide age demographic. Young teens to middle aged adults are obsessed with YA books—and the big question on many people's minds is why? Perhaps you are wondering that about your loved one. Or perhaps you too have a secret obsession with this genre-that's-not-a-genre, but don't totally understand why.
First, let's set the record straight. YA isn't a genre, per se. It's talked about like it is, but it isn't. Paranormal, romance, thriller, horror, mystery, literary fiction, sci fi, fantasy… these are genres—all of which you can find in the YA category. So if it's not a genre, and it's not just appealing to young adults, then what gives?
I know, it's confusing. Some of you may think YA lit is a gateway drug to fluff writing. Many attribute the wide-spread popularity of YA lit to the 'simplistic writing'—the argument being that people don't want to have to use their brains when they read, and YA is brainless (or something along those ridiculous and insulting lines.)
Don’t get me wrong, there's some brainless, simplistic YA out there. Just as there's the same for thriller, horror, mystery, etc. That's true of any genre (yes, okay, we'll call it a genre for sake of clarity and ease of communication, just remember, it's not really a genre.) As someone who reads and writes YA fiction (as well as children's literature and adult fiction) I find this explanation simplistic and offensive.
Sure, we want to be entertained when we read. We crave escapism and adventure. That doesn't mean the writing is bleh or that we're all mindless morons. It just means we might not always be in the mood for War and Peace. (And honestly, who is ever in the mood for that?)
So what's the appeal? Based on what I've seen, read and heard… here are my thoughts.
One, YA is largely dominated by female authors, and female readers. That's not to say that men and boys don't enjoy reading and writing YA, but they are not the primary demographic on either side of the coin. (And please don't ask me to site sources, this is a blog, not a literary journal… a quick Google search will show this to be true.)
Perhaps because of this, YA has more strong, intelligent, kick-butt female protagonist than nearly any other genre, ever. (With epic fantasy probably being last on the list, following thrillers… this is not statistically proven, just my guess based on what I've read. And of course, there are exceptions. Just not many.) As a woman myself, I love reading about strong women and girls who are faced with hard choices and challenges and come away even stronger. I relate to them, just as many of you do. Just as our teen daughters do. It's empowering.
For this alone, the YA genre lends itself to popularity. But I think it's more than that. Within YA, you can find any genre you like, be it mystery, romance, thrillers, horror, sci fi, fantasy, paranormal… but they will all have some basic similarities that account for much of these books' appeal—the coming of age theme.
In any coming of age story, you're dealing with thematic elements that touch on deep emotional memories for most of us. We may not relate to a middle aged male detective chasing a serial killer, or an elf killing Orc's with a giant sword, but probably all of us can relate to a teenager falling in love for the first time, or feeling trapped and helpless in a situation not of their making (or of their making.)
We've all been there, and in these books, we get to go back with the wizened eyes of age and experience and relive what we once lived, but with more grace and control. We get to escape from the drudgery of dishes and grocery shopping and cooking and working and join a girl who has to fight to stay alive and provide for her family. We get to find love with a mythical being beyond reality, or battle side by side with our best friends as we face off against evil teachers and bad wizards. No matter how magical, mythical or outside of reality the plot is, the internal drive and quest and hardships are the same.
It also provides a sense of wish fulfillment. We've been there on one level, but we haven't. Now we get to be the popular girl, or the girl who can read minds, or the one who finds eternal love. We live thousands of lives through the pages in these books, lives that are just starting out, lives that are on the cusp of unfolding into greatness. You can't get that same magic anywhere else. It's the magic of YA, that we get to begin anew each time we pick up a new book to read.
For teens, the journey is different. They are still living it, and so can relate to their paged peers. But they also get to see into the future by surviving the Hunger Games with Katniss or living happily ever after with Edward. They get to imagine their futures a hundred different ways—and they, like us adults, enjoy the wish fulfillment of these stories.
It's a powerful drive, the emotional memories and fantasies that all genre of YA books stir in us. Is it any wonder that it's so addictive? Within one massive genre-that's-not-a-genre, we get to relive the emotional intensity of our own coming-of-age. And in the end, aren't we all still going through these moments, if in a less dramatic way? We all live through new beginnings and endings, heartbreak and rebirths, closed doors and open windows. When we feel hopeless or stuck, a great YA novel brings us back to a place of hope and opportunity where anything and everything is possible, if we just turn the next page in our books—and our lives.
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