Young Adult Literature (abbreviated YA) is technically literature aimed at teens, usually from about middle school up through high school. Some famous titles of the genre have been turned into movies you may have heard of, like the Hunger Games, the Maze Runner, and the Harry Potter series.
But YA as a genre consists of much more than dystopias and magic schools. There are plenty of fantastical and science fiction-based stories, yes, but there is also historical fiction, romance, and just plain fiction. In fact, the book often credited with creating the idea of “young adult” fiction, S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, has no fantastical elements whatsoever:
The Outsiders is about two weeks in the life of a 14-year-old boy. The novel tells the story of Ponyboy Curtis and his struggles with right and wrong in a society in which he believes that he is an outsider.
Fun fact: this was also made into a movie. With Patrick Swayze and Tom Cruise.
Ponyboy’s story deals with issues of class and poverty, of gang violence, and even of what it means to be a man. These are not the simple ideas outlined in classic fairy tales, or even earlier fiction aimed at children, but complex concepts that are just as relevant to adults.
Such universal themes continue in YA today. Take Maggie Stiefvater‘s The Raven Boys, an often humorous book delving into the mystery of a long dead king that also tackles problems of economic class, privilege, and abuse. Or Patrick Ness‘s A Monster Calls, which explores all the stages of grief. These books speak to more than just the age group they’re meant for. And they do so in the easily accessible, often incredibly lyrical language of a book ostensibly meant for younger readers.
YA also has the advantage of being one of the most diverse genres around in terms of not only characters, but also authors. For instance, it is one of the very few genres where more women submit manuscripts to publishers than men. Massive online communities drawn to the genre have also supported movements like We Need Diverse Books and Disability in Kidlit, bringing visibility and support to diverse stories within the genre. There’s so much to explore, that a person can spend years just beginning to get into YA.
And in an increasingly busy world, these complex yet accessible stories are often a ready escape from the tyranny we face every day in America. Sometimes you need a story about a guy who can read characters out of books into the real world or a girl who disguises herself as a boy to join a pirate crew or a bunch of troubled teens who set out to pull off an impossible heist. Maybe you just want a sappy romance or a family drama or a lyrical mystery with a twist. Whatever you want, there’s probably a YA for it. And chances are it will be an engaging read that will take you much less time to get through than the average adult fare.
At RML, we are currently working to expand our YA collection to include more newer works. If you’re curious, come in and try one of the many titles hyperlinked in this piece (we own all of those titles in hard copy), or talk to one of our librarians for a recommendation. You never know, you may find a new favorite book among the YA stacks.
YA is worth your time. But don’t just take my word for it:
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers: In Defense of YA (video)
In Defense of Reading Young Adult Literature as a Grown Up (article)
Why I read YA (article)
9 Reasons Why Reading YA is Books is Good for Adults too (article)
Grownups: You Can Read YA, and Why not read it with your kids? (article)
Look Homeward, Reader: A Not-So-Young Audience for Young Adult Books (article)