Shut Up and Read: The YA Debate

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I fell into book blogging by accident.

I wanted to create a blog about my writing process because I was going to become a writer. I was going to publish books about dystopic worlds, werewolves, time travel and two best friends who spent their lunch hour trying to figure out if the chicken did, in fact, come before the egg. Yet what I wanted to write about was just as diverse as the books I inhaled and that led me to want to share what I’ve read with others. I could just as easily dive into the fictional world of Ravka as I could 1930s Chicago.

How and what I read changes, but it’s also because I want to explore all kinds of stories.

Young Adult fiction’s primary audience is young adults. Of course it would be because we read what we can relate to. It’s our comfort zone and starting point. You listen to break up songs because you’ve just been through a break up but you can also stumble upon politically charged rap music that opens you up to a style and issues you weren’t conscious of before. We go to what we know but we also evolve and try new perspectives.

Ruth Graham had many issues with her recent Slate piece on adults reading young adult fiction, the biggest being the assumption that growth in reading is linear and chronological. You’re not a mature reader because you read about a demographic that has been labelled as mature; maturity isn’t synonymous with age. There are young adults who are far more mature than some of the adults I’ve met or observed, and vice versa. Maturity is relative to the individual. We grow into our maturity at difference points in our lives. What defines youth isn’t the lack of maturity but the opportunity for growth through the mistakes that are made. We all make mistakes but most of our mistakes tend to coincide with our newly acquired independence which, again, may come at different moments in our lives.

How can you say that those reading and being impacted by Eleanor and Park aren’t mature when the novel deals with issues of poverty and abuse? Does being a teenager somehow diminish those serious issues? Who the story is about shouldn’t determine whether or not their story is of value. Every perspective is important and to say that it’s not worth an adult’s time to explore the young adult perspective is not only insulting but pretty pretentious. Adult fiction is not immune to easy endings, poor story construction or under developed characters. It’s an affliction that occurs in all types of books for all ages.

There are a whole host of other issues in this “debate” that I have problems with:

  • Genre vs Age Group: The constant referral to YA as a genre when it’s an age group. If you’re going to argue, don’t begin with an error.
  • Putting Down Genre Fiction: I’ve seen articles that lift up The Fault In Our Stars and Eleanor & Park as the gems and saving graces of YA because they’re “realistic fiction.” Attacking genre fiction isn’t limited to YA but genre can explore important themes as easily as realistic/literary novels.
  • Adults Read YA so YA is No longer for Young Adults?: Roger Sutton poses this question in his blog post and I can’t disagree more. If the perspective is from a young adult, it’s young adult. We’re not going to suddenly call adult lit YA lit simply because a lot of teenagers read it.

Reading is a personal experience and guess what? It’s also subjective. Who cares what you read? Just read. Read a lot. Read everything. Read what you love. So the next time someone tries to argue the merits or worthiness of a book just tell them to shut up and read.

Ardo Omer

Ardo Omer

Former WWAC editor. Current curmudgeon and Batman's personal assistant. Icon art by Diana Sim.