The ‘Great’ YA debate

You may have noticed the ‘PromoteYAInstead’ hashtag trending on Twitter this last couple of days. It stemmed from an article which suggested adults should be embarrassed to read YA fiction (you can find this via the hashtag).

More often than not, articles like this pass me by, not because I don’t have opinions, or don’t care…I don’t consider myself grossly apathetic, but I do try and steer clear of many sweeping online debates (mostly because the original argument often gets lost in slanging matches between the opposing sides).

In this instance my desire to respond was three fold..I am a writer (yes, of the ‘dreaded’ YA fiction in question, I am a reader (of both the aforementioned and other apparently more ‘acceptable’ adult fiction) and I am a mother of children I hope one day will be prolific readers, of all types of books.

The author of the article which spawned this debate and the resulting outpouring of support for one of the industries continually highest grossing genres, seemed to feel that as adults we should be ashamed to read something intended for a younger audience.  The article made it clear that we were coming across as over nostalgic simpletons seeking the happy ending when we could be reading Dickens or Austen and revelling in the complexities of adult emotion. This is the part that bothers me…when did it become essential to pigeon-hole everything? I am a passionate reader and as comfortable reading YA as I am ‘serious genre fiction’ aimed at adults. Couple that with a love for Shakespeare and I feel pretty confident that I am able to intelligently select a book which I can enjoy whether that is for simple escapism or to challenge my mind.

The article also immediately dismissed ‘trashy and transparent’ books such as Twilight and Divergent – so the author and I are already on a different page as I write and read those kind of books…but I am not hurt as an author, more as a reader. I know where my books sit and I don’t try to dress them up as something they are not. My readers are intelligent, they know there are other, better, more complex stories out there for them, but for that moment, they enjoy getting lost in my characters and I am immensely grateful and honoured to have the chance to deliver those moments. As I reader, I appreciate lots of different books and who am I, or who indeed is anyone to tell a person what they can or can’t read?

Back to my ‘three-fold’ response.  I have touched on the writer, reader element above and may well revisit this, but I think my role as a mother is the one which makes this sting the most. I know the author is getting at adults here and isn’t suggesting that YA can’t be enjoyed by the younger demographic, however, I am of the mind that reading something you enjoy counts, no matter what and I don’t want my children to grow up in a world where reading something they like is something they will be judged for, especially when they reach adulthood and are beyond capable of making informed choices. I don’t want to go off point but I support that reading is good, full stop and that carries on into adulthood. I would love to be able to track just how many of these ‘trashy, transparent and unrealistic books’ have been responsible for bringing readers alive…for creating book fans in a world dominated by TV and the visual medium (no complaints from me on that, I love TV too). Don’t get me wrong, I hope all book lovers discover some of literature’s great works, because the world is full of masterpieces; I suppose the real point is, who decides what makes one? If as many people love Twilight as appreciate the Mona Lisa you can’t compare them, but you have to concede they have a place in culture and in people’s hearts.

A wonderful friend of mine looked at this before I posted it and raised the very valid point that ‘adults’ have been pedalling classic young adult literature for years (Chronicles of Narnia as an example). Classics only became classics because of how readers responded to them and my friend, very eloquently asked who are we to say today’s YA novels aren’t capable of the same? Not suggesting all YA, but there are undoubtedly some which have shaped and will shape a generation of readers.

I think rather than going backwards by reading YA, we are going backwards by suggesting it is wrong to. We are losing the joy of reading by telling people what they should and shouldn’t read. Books are a gift and if something you read makes you happy or sad, or allows you to lose yourself then it works and you should be able to enjoy it without fear of ‘book bashing’ or bullying.

IN conclusion I WILL always read YA I think and I am ok with that…this is no slur on my intelligence or my ‘prowess’ as a reader. Read what you like, like what you read and a world with more books isn’t a bad thing, nor is one with more readers…in my opinion.

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