Next to my time as a student of English literature and final editor at Writer’s Block, I spend a lot of my time running a book review blog – or more specifically, running a book review blog that is mainly focused on young adult fiction. Usually, when I mention this to people, they give me a weird look, because “that’s those teen books, right? Like Twilight.”
This question particularly irks me because I feel like a lot of people judge YA before they even try it, which mostly has to do with the (negative) hype that has surrounded some of these books in the past, as well as the label that has been created. Both of these things are partly the fault of marketing. There are certain YA books that have received a lot of hype and that have been turned into big movie franchises, and in that way, are the most well-known of the genre. Still, there are so many novels left undiscovered by a lot of people, novels that have not gotten a movie deal and have not been promoted as much, and it’s a shame that some people think that these are the same as the most well-known ones.
Furthermore, bookstores often label young adult as “teen fiction”, which turns off most people who are not fifteen year old girls. I think the term teen fiction does not truly fit YA, though, because these books have a lot of crossover to new adult (a relatively new term that describes books for and about college-aged people) and adult fiction. But it’s the teen fiction label that makes (new) adults feel ashamed for reading books they have every right to read. In my opinion, the label therefore makes them miss out on fantastic novels that are in no way inferior to novels written for an adult audience.
I think people need to be aware of the great stories that YA has to offer, instead of being put off by something that is really just a label or some well-known franchises that have had a lot of media coverage. There are fluffy and literary, emotional and logical, straightforward and insightful YA books, just as there are fluffy and literary, emotional and logical, straightforward and insightful adult fiction books. YA books are about social issues and daily struggles and romance and friendship and family, just like adult books are.
As part of my defense, I would like to recommend some young adult novels I think students of English literature would enjoy. If you like exquisite and lyrical prose, for example, anything by Maggie Stiefvater and Laini Taylor is a good place to start. Both have a way with words that is almost impeccable. If you prefer books that are philosophical and deal with social criticism, I would suggest reading More Than This by Patrick Ness (which deals with our current technology-focused society and how this might change) and Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman (which is about an alternate society in which Caucasian people are shunned because of their colorless skin).
If you enjoy realism in the form of historical novels, you should try The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (which is narrated by Death) or Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (about a British pilot crashing into Nazi territory), both of which deal with the Second World War. Finally, I think people who say that young adult books aren’t literary should read books by E. Lockhart, Rainbow Rowell and Jandy Nelson, authors who have all won a Printz award, and whose books are absolutely not “like Twilight” (which came out ten years ago and is definitely not a good example of the YA genre).
The young adult label still seems to have a negative connotation, which mostly has to do with a lack of understanding of what the genre is really about. Though there are large franchises that are widely marketed and there are bookstores that insist on calling YA books “teen fiction”, there is no restriction to who can and can’t enjoy these books. The target audience, as determined by the marketing team, does not in any way affect the content of the book, nor does it make certain stories “lesser” because of this. It is as they say: don’t judge a book by its cover. Or label.
Header image courtesy of Amazon.com