Over the past few years, there’s a boom in the publishing industry for one specific genre: Young Adult literature (typically stylized as YA). Walk into any Barnes & Noble and you can see the huge displays, rows of shelves dedicated just to this one genre.
As a writer, it’s been interesting to see this from a writer’s perspective. We notice certain trends: vampires after the Twilight Era, the supernatural/angel era (tied closely to the Twilight Era), dystopia after The Hunger Games and Divergent, and now we’re in the contemporary fiction era. Most of us writers grew up reading these sorts of things when we were in middle school and high school. They were more accessible than the classics some of us were forced to read and less embarrassing than the children’s books we still had a soft spot for. Even as I entered college, I still read YA books.
But something interesting happened while I was in college. As I made my way through creative writing course after creative writing course, there seemed to be a new trend forming: that of bashing YA literature. There were all sorts of reasons why YA was suddenly uncool and stupid. It wasn’t written well, the plots were silly or vapid or stupid, the protagonists were always special snowflakes. Why read that? Instead, you should be transitioning into “grown up” literature. YA shouldn’t be taken seriously. And while it’s true that there are many examples of the above cons to YA literature, people also forget the pros.
And one of the biggest pros is its diversity. Let me explain. For all its vapid plots and characters, there are good YA books out there. Not only that, but this genre is the only (that I’ve seen) actively trying to diversify itself in more ways than one. I go to the fantasy and sci-fi section (the grown-up versions) and see very little variety. The covers look the same, the elements are the same. They all sound or look like rehashings of the same type of fantasy since Tolkien was around. It’s stagnant. The same problem happens with contemporary fiction. I ask trusted friends (who read more contemporary than I do) to recommend some of their favorites and help me navigate the aisle. But reading the blurbs on the back covers, I realize they all sound the same too. There’s nothing there to hold my interest. Meanwhile, YA encompasses many genres: contemporary, fantasy, sci-fi, horror. You name it, YA probably has it. True, it may go through trends but there’s always something just beyond that trend if you look for it.
Which brings me to my second point of diversity. I follow several book bloggers, all of whom give book reviews. And I’ve noticed a trend: all the books they like and hail for diversity (actual, good representation of diversity) are YA. Not a single one has been so-called “grown up” literature. In fact, the YA genre has had a slew of #ownvoices* literature. There’s queer representation, POC rep, disability rep. Any marginalized group now has the chance to be published and have their stories told. And in a world like this, isn’t it needed? Take into account the age demographic too. People between the ages of 12 to 29 are usually the ones reading these books. They’re learning about other cultures, other experiences through characters who are not like them. Shouldn’t literature be helping them figure things out in a world where inclusion is so important?
I could go on longer, but I don’t want to ramble. Point is, YA is important for many reasons. So instead of continuing on with the ways in which YA is different and constantly changing, I’ll ask my fellow writers, those who sneered at YA and anyone who wrote it, one question.
Did you ever stop to think maybe it’s not the genre, but what we read and write?
*#ownvoices: writers of marginalized groups who write characters/stories about their marginalized groups in any genre