Usually, I’m scared of my mom reading my posts. But not this time. With this post, I’m scared of my AP Literature teacher stumbling upon it, my elitist literature-loving friends finding it, or, even worse – my future college professors in the English department reading it. Because this post is dedicated to one argument: young-adult books are just as valuable as what many people refer to as “literature,” and on some occasions more valuable than such classics.
Let the screams of outrage begin. I hear them loud and clear. I hear it from my parents (“Thomas, why is there a teenaged girl on the cover of your book?”), from my teachers (“nope, The Hunger Games is not a worthy novel”) and from myself (“I probably should be reading a Pulitzer Prize winner instead of this contemporary romance novel… oh well.”) There’s a pervasive belief in the book community and in the realm of academia that young-adult just doesn’t cut it, that if you’re a talented reader or writer you should progress to adult, literary fiction as quickly as possible. Heck, my friends and family tell me on a weekly basis that I’m too “smart” to want to write YA; I should aim to write the next Great American Novel. I should write “literature.”
Literature is a vague term. I’m often lost in terms of what to consider literature and what not to consider literature. Are books like Memoirs of a Geisha or Freedom works of literature? I’ve even read several debates on whether Pride and Prejudice should be included in the literary canon. Either way, most of the books that people agree should be coined literature usually contain strong themes and wonderful writing. But so do all books, even if they’re supposedly written for young adults. As I touched upon earlier, some young-adult books are subjectively better than works that are commonly called literature.
Here’s the first thing I frequently find with YA. People generalize the genre all the time. Books like Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Harry Potter dominate the YA realm, at least in bookstores. But there are so many shades to it, just like classics – there’s romance, action, fantasy, science-fiction, books that mix two of those, books that mix three, etc. That’s one of the great aspects of YA. There’s so much diversity, so many writers, and a wide breadth of themes. Myriad people immediately judge all young-adult books by what’s featured on the bestselling list, even when some of the best works aren’t all that popular. Some include Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, The Truth About Forever, and The Rules of Survival.
Then there’s that magical quality YA/MG writer Hannah Moskowitz hints at in her blog post. Perhaps it’s how character-centered YA books usually are, or how they often give teens the first taste of the harsher aspects of life, like how a peer of mine didn’t know what rape was until reading Laurie Halse Anderon’s Speak. I think it’s different for everyone, but I love YA because oftentimes it’s about coming of age. It’s about characters who start out as naive, depressed, damaged, heartbroken, or just plain hurt… and how they get better. It’s that feeling of absolute resolution and fullness and joy when characters find themselves, that rush of emotion that sends my heart soaring every single time.
But literature has that theme too, right? Of course. Here’s my hypothesis. In life, there are critical periods, or biological time frames when certain things are done best. It’s easiest to learn a second language when you’re in elementary school, it’s most appropriate to have a child when you’re an adult. The best time to come of age is when you’re a young adult. This is when you’re starting to realize that not everything society and your parents have taught you is correct, when you’re dealing with high school drama and other afflictions associated with the teenage time period. This is why YA books pack such a powerful punch, especially in terms of themes related to bildungsroman.
No, I have not analyzed literature at the college level yet (unless you count AP courses.) Perhaps then I will attain a more perfect grasp of the supposedly gargantuan difference between literature literature and young-adult literature. But, I know, no matter what, that I will never stop reading or writing YA. What They Always Tell Us, a story about two brothers’ coming of age in a quiet Alabama town, helped me come to terms with my sexuality and offered characters I could relate to. Forbidden, a tale of two siblings who fall in love in the most beautiful yet heartbreaking of ways, forced me to reconsider my opinion on the controversial opinion of incest. As dramatic as this sounds, I owe the genre my life. Who knows how many other teens feel the same way?