Every time I run across an article describing the artistic sinkhole that YA fiction falls into (in the opinion of the article writer), I find myself growing more and more frustrated. There are thousands of reasons for reading across numerous categories of both fiction and non-fiction, and I feel like it shouldn’t be our job to tell other people that their chosen reading material is base, irrelevant, or even embarrassing.
But instead of harping on these negative opinions, I think we should take a minute to consider the positives.
I, for one, refuse to feel embarrassed about my love for YA and children’s fiction. For me, it’s a chance to see the world from a more hopeful perspective. It seems we grow more and more jaded as we age, but teens and kids are a fount of undaunted hopes and dreams—the world might not be a great place, but it could be. And the reckless abandon and daring of youth fuels the ability to not only wish for change, but to go out and make it happen.
YA protagonists hold immense power in their hands at a time of life when it’s absolutely crucial to decide how they’re going to use it. And they don’t always use it well. For better or for worse, YA fiction is a picture of our truer selves—and sometimes even who we wish we could be—whether we’re willing to admit it or not. And I love the stories where hope wins.
I asked a number of friends why they choose to read YA, middle grade, and children’s literature. All of them are beyond the age ranges of the protagonists in these stories. Here’s what they had to say:
“While I love the classics like Shakespeare and Brontë, etc, sometimes you just want an easy read. YA fantasy also isn’t afraid to experiment and I find it much less stuffy than adult fantasy series. … YA is usually character driven as well even if it’s not a coming of age story. YA protagonists have much more room for character growth by just being in those tween/teen years. Add in some conflict they have to deal with and you can end up with a completely changed individual from who you started with. I think that makes things more exciting and intriguing.” —Melissa M., reader
“I read (and write) YA because it brings me back to my youthful days. More carefree and passionate times.” —Deanna Fugett, author
“They are full of creativity, and I love stories of becoming—where characters press on through trials and find that they are stronger than they dreamed they could be.” —Kathleen Freeman, writer
“It takes me back to my youth and I can imagine myself as a child on some of the adventures or how I’d feel if I were in the setting/situation of various characters.” —Debbie B., school library assistant
“I read/write YA because of the characters. Teens (no matter how “adult” they may act or the situations they may face) still approach things differently – unhindered by adult life and with a vibrancy adults tend to lose. Characters like that make me excited!” —Emilie Hendryx, writer
“I read (well, listen to audio books) a ton of YA and a little middle grade. I like fantasy and sci-fi and can find a lot of that genre. It tends to have less sex, gore, and swearing to bog it down and instead focuses more on relationships and the story. Those authors aren’t afraid to be creative and try something a little new.” —Amy Wiley, writer
“Stories for kids and teens do not beat about the bush. They jump right into the action and grab you by the heart and yank your emotions right up there into your throat and don’t let go. They are quick, fun, real, and heartfelt. There is real fantasy, adventure, and true heroes. … So many adult books worry so much about being subtle and artistic that they forget to tell a story. Children’s books are all about the story and they don’t forget to leave you inspired and challenged and changed in the process. … They move me, make me think and change and grow and love.” —Kristen Joy Wilkes, author
And to show that even doubters can come around:
“I first started reading YA books because I work in a high school library. At first, I forced myself to read contemporary romance YA fiction and hated it. … But once I started reading some better work, I realized that the contemporary novels are like mirrors that tweens/teens can hold up to themselves. Sure, the characters make stupid choices and create unnecessary drama because they don’t talk to each other. But that’s life.” —Tiffany B., high school library assistant
Now it’s your turn. Shout it out! Why do you read YA, middle grade, and/or children’s books? *Write it in the comments!!!
This is Dana, signing off from Washington!