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strongAndrea Shea, Book Columnist/strong
Telling someone you like young adult fiction is like owning up to a secret love for Nickelback: you’ve got about a snowball’s chance in hell of getting out of that conversation unjudged.
I can’t count the number of times my roommate has wandered over to my bookcase in search of a fresh read, only to encounter my extensive collection of teen-girl-centric novels and ask me where I keep my “real person books.” And don’t even get me started on the looks I get when I ride the T with a typically lime green or bubblegum pink book in my hands; looks that seem to say, “You’re twenty years old and still reading about high school? Get your life together before it’s too late.”
To be fair, a handful of authors who write young adult (colloquially known as YA) fiction have gone above and beyond the call of duty to earn the genre a bad reputation: werewolves, vampires, and vapid girls itching for melodrama hardly seem appealing to anyone over the age of 13 as much more than a guilty pleasure.
Although it may not seem like it, there’s a healthy dose of dangerously addictive good writing hidden in the land of YA. Unfortunately, the glaring mediocrity of a few cringe-worthy, yet inexplicably successful YA books — say, emTwilight/em, for a far too obvious example — have potential readers fleeing in the opposite direction before they can take notice of the far better stories within the genre.
I made the mistake of borrowing Suzanne Collins’ emThe Hunger Games/em books during midterms once, and I spent the remainder of the week tearing through those pages like I didn’t have three exams, a twelve-page paper, and a social life.
The series tells the story of young Katniss Everdeen, who lives in a dystopian world where teenagers are sent off to fight one another to death for the entertainment of The Capitol, a tyrannical government regime. Sound heavy? It is, and in the best possible way.
emThe Hunger Games/em demanded my emotional investment and made me feel, really feel. Is it the best-written book I’ve ever read? No. Is there an occasional plot hole or cop-out? Absolutely. But I laughed and I cried and I literally shouted in response to text on a page, which is more than I could say about any adult fiction I’ve read in recent memory. There’s a beating heart at emThe Hunger Games/em’ core, and you can feel it pulsing through every page.
However, it was only during my second read-through that I really understood my love for both the series and its genre as a whole: Reading emThe Hunger Games/em was fun. For a book about kids gruesomely murdering one another in order to keep themselves alive, I had a hell of a good time reading it.
And therein lies the true beauty of YA fiction: the characters straddle a line with one foot in more grown-up problems and the other still in childhood. They remember how to laugh and be silly, even when darker things come their way. They can fall in love for the first time, and even a second and a third. There’s still magic in a touch or a kiss, and we can feel the moment’s pure electricity through the pages at our fingertips even while our collegiate apathy sets in a little deeper with every passing year.
No triumph is sweeter than that of a teen’s, no love greater, no laugh lighter. Characters in YA novels still remember how to feel deeply without all the sighing, general frustration and discontent so frequent in adult fiction. And they’re certain to take you along for the ride.
YA fiction has a wealth of emotional insight to offer the literary world, if only people would take the time to listen. There’s a reason readers of all ages are so invested in series like emHarry Potter/em and emThe Hunger Games/em and the Jessica Darling series. Teens have a unique perspective of the world, one that’s often free of the jaded shackles of adulthood.
I’m not saying that the prose is a shining example of artistic language. This isn’t Charles Dickens, and it’s not pretending to be. But YA fiction dares to be raw and fun and emotionally honest and manages to do it without suffocating under the pretension and disillusionment of adult fiction. So you can keep your “real person books”; I’ll be in the young adult section.
emShea is a junior writing, literature, and publishing major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org./em