Why I love YA… And why I hate calling it YA

So, when a topic like “Young Adult Fiction” rolls around on this blog, I’m all for it. After all, I don’t just read YA. I write it. And I don’t just write it. I am passionately in love with it. Sure, my YA has a fantasy bent, but still… I love fiction for young adults.

And yet I hate calling it YA fiction, because the term is a marketing term, not a way of describing what is happening when someone picks up a YA book and actually reads it.

You see, I remember the days when the young adult/teen section of the bookstore didn’t exist. Those were the days when I, as a teenager, could read anything off any shelf and no one would look at me funny. It didn’t matter if I pulled a Dr. Seuss book off the younger kids’ shelf for some fun, snagged the V.C. Andrews potboiler, Flowers in the Attic, dug into a political polemic like Animal Farm, or played around as I usually did in the Science Fiction and Fantasy aisles, plumbing for Anne McCaffrey, Robert Heinlein, and Frank Herbert.

No one ever said, “OH MY GOD… There’s a young adult in the full adult aisle. EMERGENCY!”

Because reading was reading, and people were free to choose.

Now, that freedom has been constricted by what, frankly, has to do with sales and money making more than anything else. And yes, it’s at least partly true that young adult fiction does concentrate on teen issues like first dates, figuring out love, dealing with growing up, and so on. But I found all that stuff being addressed in other books… “grownup” books… So, why shove teen reading into a corner and segregate them from adult reading?

It’s kind of unfair, isn’t it? To expect teens to read only “teen” stuff. That adds to the limiting of how we see the world.

Which brings me back to why I love YA. I think that as a writer, I can add to young people’s way of seeing the world. I can expose them to ideas that encourage them to engage the brain. And I love that YA, when well written, does that. It creates metaphors for life, like The Hunger Games does. It creates visions of what is possible, like Nancy Drew did for so many young girls. (See Meg’s post.)

And maybe most of all, it can tempt teens to sneakily, surreptitiously enter the adult aisles and find Robert Ludlum, Elizabeth Gilbert, and whoever else is doing something fun for adults. Maybe the Pied Piper still exists somehow, and maybe we just need to make sure he shows up in teen reading more often by letting him out of the adult aisles and into the entire bookstore end-to-end, where he belongs.

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2 thoughts on “Why I love YA… And why I hate calling it YA

  1. As someone who skipped all but the hormone stage of being a teenager – I concur! I didn’t (and never have at any stage of my life) related to most teenagers, so when I was a teen I was in the adult fiction aisles at the bookstore and the library. So while there may be some excellent YA out there, we certainly shouldn’t box people in to certain reading choices based on their age.

  2. I agree. There was none of this YA stuff growing up, though certainly McCaffrey’s Harper Hall books and L’Engles books – off the top of my head – would be classed as YA today.

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