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What is it about the Young Adult (YA) Genre?

If you haven’t noticed already, young adult (YA) books have been and are on the rise. So what is it about this genre that is so successful? Titles like Harry Potter and Twilight had been released to a younger audience and as a result, they have gain recognition world-wide by both children and adults.

Carin and I were just discussing this on the subway the other day. Why are these YA titles so popular? My assumption was that perhaps YA books are gaining more recognition because they are easier to read and decipher than “great literature”. Classics like Great Expectations and Lord of the Flies are just not that interesting to a group of teenagers, and its not often until later that you think to yourself, “Hey, this isn’t as bad as I remembered.” I’m guilty of this myself as I absolutely hated reading Shakespeare plays in high school but grew an appreciation for them once I got to college.

Then I came across this article, “How Young Adult Fiction Came of Age” and it clicked.

“Every decision feels life-changing, and every choice in these books can seem life-or-death. The emotions are no more or less valid than what one might experience at 30, but it’s the first time, and thus very powerful.”

I think that the first encounter syndrome is true. It is our character’s “first time” grappling and dealing with certain problems and issues. There is a particular innocence and naive quality about young characters. I don’t know about you, but I love to see character development and growth.

Which leads to the second article that I read: “From ‘The Giver’ to ‘Twilight,’ Young Adult Fiction Helps Teens Grow Up”.

Rather than continuing trends of infantilizing young adult readers or providing an escape for adults who don’t want to face the trials of the real world, The Giver and the most popular young adult books today all give their young protagonists significant adult responsibilities. The books then explore the way the characters rise to the challenge, crumble under their burdens, or learn to share them. These franchises aren’t helping readers and viewers run away from the difficulties of adulthood: they’re sending the message that with great power comes great cost, and great compromise.

I thought about this and started to go through some of my own favorite YA reads. Harry Potter? Check. I went through my list of recently read YA books. Daughter of Smoke & Bone? Check. These characters have adult responsibilities thrusted upon them and the story shows us how they deal. Hmmm, another good point made.

Most YA books have this similar theme in common: that inner turmoil, that struggle to find yourself, to learn about yourself, to find yourself, to grow. All things which are relatable. The emotion draws us as readers in and in my case, eagerly so. You could probably say that’s the case with other books, but I think the two ideas above make pretty valid points. What do you think?

– Jane


One comment on “What is it about the Young Adult (YA) Genre?

  1. murphysrun
    August 5, 2011

    I think you bring up a good point about the vicarious and empathetic experience that reading YA books is for teens. They’re emotionally naive, vulnerable, and insecure. They feel powerful things: from love to lust to social acceptance and rejection. Remember your first love? They’re searching for their own identity, oddly through emulating others. In the YA books teens can find validation and association in a way that is private and safe, free from fear of judgement and rejection. These books give them a sense of belonging. I am sorry to say that reality TV shows achieve much of the same thing.

    As for directly helping teens to grow up? I am not so sure that this isn’t a quantum leap in logic.

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This entry was posted on August 4, 2011 by in Jane, News and tagged , , , , .

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Words We Like

“I think it makes more sense to write what you don’t know. To write what makes you uneasy, what you wonder about, what keeps you awake at night."

— Lois Lowry, at the BEA Children’s Book and Author Breakfast

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