Young Adult Literature: Renewing Popular Interest in Books

Anyone with a high school education has probably heard of the ‘greats’ in classic literature, such as The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, and The Great Gatsby. And sure, if you are an avid reader, you most likely appreciate sophisticated prose. However, in the past fourteen years, the world has experienced a new kind of literary boom with the eruption of the Young Adult genre. This breed of literature, frequently referred to as YA lit, has experienced an exponential rise to fame, riding on the tailwind of books like The Hunger Games, Twilight, and the Harry Potter series.

This evolving genre is “on a roller coaster that only goes up, my friend.” The YA motif has expanded into the realms of realistic fiction, fantasy, and adventure. The variety of subjects YA lit offers has blurred the lines between fiction and non-fiction and the lines that separate young adult and adult readership.

Jennifer Lynn Barnes, a young adult author, says, “Just like adolescence is between childhood and adulthood, paranormal, or other, is between human and supernatural. Teens are caught between two worlds, childhood and adulthood, and in YA, they can navigate those two worlds and sometimes dualities of other worlds.”

The term ‘young adult’ was coined in the 1960s and originally referenced teens ages 12-18. Now that term has stretched to include readers from 10-29. Furthermore, “16-to 29-year-olds are the largest group checking out books from their local libraries,”, and a 2012 survey even found that 55% of YA books are bought by people older than 18, and 28% by those between 30 and 44 years old.

However, because of its ‘young adult’ label, the YA lit community is facing backlash from people who believe that individuals should not read YA lit if they are out of the acceptable age range, despite the fact that the range is intended to identify a target audience, not place limitations. Blogger Ruth Graham claims that “Adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children,” because of its “maudlin teen dramas” and endings that are “far too simple.” Opinions like these give young adult literature a negative stigma. While some books may have contrived plots or clichéd characters, the entire genre should not be condemned. YA books explore legitimate topics and controversies in language that is understandable and situations that are relatable. Meaningful themes teach readers valuable life lessons that they might not receive otherwise.

Adults should not be embarrassed to read YA books, because the experiences of adolescence are not something you endure and forget. They stay with you forever. Reading a novel considered to be ‘young adult’ allows adults to revisit those emotions, and remind them every so often that they did not instantly jump from 13 to 30.

Young adult literature creates a deeper love of all literature that allows readers to transition from works by J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer to the lasting classics of J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee. In today’s society, it is far too easy for teens to choose a video game over a printed piece of literature. YA lit is taking the world by storm, which means more teenagers are reading, and that is pretty amazing.

by Jennifer Rohrbach