The Young Adult (YA) literary genre is the fastest growing age category of books. Let us tell you why!
By Emma Schneider, Summer Associate
October 12, 2020
The teen novel - what does it draw to your mind? Dramatic romances? Love triangles? Predictable plots? Perhaps vampires? Moody teens? Paperback novels with cringey covers? Those are the teen tropes of the past! The Young Adult (YA) literary genre is the fastest growing age category of books, this is due in part that these books present real world situations as well as richly developed storylines for their readership. However, there is still a stigma surrounding them. They are seen as less-than in comparison to adult literature for being “childish”. I am here to explain why that stigma needs to come to an end.
Sure, I will admit some YA novels still follow those tropes - but so does adult fiction (including the “classics” where these tropes originated). Books like the The Selection series (about a competition to marry a prince) are no different than Pride and Prejudice or Anna Karenina except that they are written about a teen character and marketed towards a teen audience. YA is meant to create a bridge between children’s lit and adult lit. That being said, bridges are meant to be crossed a multitude of times by everyone. Just as teens venture into the world of Adult lit, adults can just as easily cross back over the bridge and experience some fantastic stories in the world of YA.
Here are some reasons why I think YOU (an adult) should cross that generational bridge and read YA:
YA is Full of Meaningful and Powerful Stories
The whole literary world has turned to promoting #ownvoices and discussing important social topics from various viewpoints. YA is no exception. Books like The Hate U Give, A Very Large Expanse of Sea, Burn Baby Burn, Internment, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian expertly make a point of drawing attention to the challenges faced by those of a different race. Stay Gold, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, None of the Above, and countless others tell LGBTQ+ positive stories. Perks of Being a Wallflower, Turtles All the Way Down, and 13 Reasons Why cover mental health related topics and events. There are even books like This is Where It Ends that discuss heavy topics like school shootings in a fictional way for teens. All of these topics are equally as important to teenagers as they are adults and the coming-of-age essence of YA is able to remind and educate adults of what the experience of growing up is like in an uncertain world - especially if you are different. It can give the reader a glimpse into a world different than their own and vicariously live in it, or help the reader find solace and someone to relate to in that fictional world. Diversity and inclusion are now the name of the game for YA lit!
YA Has Well-Written and Memorable Characters
It is true, YA novels are told from the perspectives of teenagers - not adults. I think that there is a beautifully honest quality to this perspective. These novels tell the stories of teens coming into their own and growing up. They do not yet have the sometimes cynical view that adults have - and it is very refreshing to return to that hopeful mindset. It is the same feeling as reading the perspective of a classic character like Scout Finch but in a modern way. Dumplin’, Eleanor and Park, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Long Way Down, and The Poet X all present very powerful characters attempting to make changes in their worlds despite being teenagers in an “adult” world. YA is heavily character driven so it yields itself to phenomenal characters such as these in almost every book you pick up. Age, Gender, Race, Sexuality, etc. are all handled very well and the characters are highly empowering to the reader regardless of genre! Anyone can find a character they can relate to somewhere in the world of YA.
YA is Full of Fleshed-Out Worlds
The creation of unique and lush worlds is an important aspect of YA lit. While many books are written in modern day, a large percentage of YA novels take place in worlds completely different from our own. Whether it be the 1500s, Victorian Era, The 1970s, Fantasy worlds, or dreary dystopian futures - the setting is always key to the story. I have often found myself reading and wishing I could just dive right into the world being vividly shown on the pages of the book. Stalking Jack the Ripper places the reader on the foggy Victorian London streets to solve an infamous mystery. The Diviners creates a mystical version of the Roaring 20s suitable for any Gatsby lover. Six of Crows puts you in a gritty fantasy world full of criminals and heists. A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes lets the reader glimpse into the world of the dystopian Panem budding into the horrifying world it will become. Twilight places the reader in the lush Pacific Northwest (I will defend these books until the end of time).
YA is an Escape from the “Real World”
Fantasy is arguably the most prominent subgenre of YA novels. It creates a wonderful escape from the “real world”, while still subtly presenting real-world problems and topics. What better way to create this escape than have it full of fun magical adventures, powerful heroes (of all races and genders), and fantastical creatures? Even if you are “not a fantasy person” or just starting out reading fantasy - YA creates a great bridge into the genre without being too heavy handed or lengthy like some adult fantasy series. The Cruel Prince, A Court of Thorns and Roses, Sorcery of Thorns, and Shadow and Bone all place the reader into new easy-to-understand yet powerful fantasy worlds. An Ember in the Ashes, We Hunt the Flame, Children of Blood and Bone, and Labyrinth Lost utilize the mythology of other cultures around the world. Total fantasy not your thing? YA has got you covered. The Raven Boys, Wicked Deep, and Wink Poppy Midnight just have a magical essence about them but are set in our world with an uncanny twist.
YA Can Be Educational Too
These YA books do not only fall under the categories of modern romances or fantasy adventures. YA holds an entire subgenre devoted to historical fiction and nonfiction, and any of the other genres, as well! The historical fiction genre in particular is able to show any reader the harsh realities of history, and coming-of-age in these time periods. Books like The Book Thief, The Silence of Bones, Between Shades of Gray, The Family Romanov, and Fatal Throne have all given me that feeling of learning history in a fun and engaging way (thus quoth someone with a History Minor). These books easily unlock various historical events and time periods to readers of all ages in an understandable way and can inspire someone to delve deeper into the history they present.
YA Novels are Quick and Engaging
YA has what is called “voice”. It grabs you and holds you through all the pages of the books. These novels also have a quick pacing and move like lightning, which makes them easy to just sit down and read with minimal time commitment. In order to do this they have to be highly engaging from the beginning hook until the final line. Also, YA novels (with the exception of major series) tend to be short in length. Stand-alone novels tend to average around 300 pages. I love books like Run For Your Life, One of Us is Lying, A List of Cages, and We Were Liars, that are able to quickly tell a deep, thought-provoking story in only a couple hundred pages. However, even the longest of YA fantasy novels or series with several books can feel like they're moving just as quickly despite a rather large page count. Series like Shatter Me, The Lunar Chronicles, Throne of Glass, The Red Queen, and The Mortal Instruments keep the reader interested throughout the multitude of books.
Finally, Books are Age-Defying
There is no time where you cannot go back and read a book that is not specifically labeled “adult”. Of course, I am not bashing adult literature, in fact, I greatly enjoy adult lit and the classics. I just want to end this stigma surrounding teen novels and have them get the much-needed attention and the literary equality they deserve. I would love to see more adults heading to those Teen Zone shelves for their next great read. After all, books do not have expiration dates!
Other Titles to Consider:
Grown: A Novel by Tiffany D. Jackson
When legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots Enchanted Jones at an audition, her dreams of being a famous singer take flight. Until Enchanted wakes up with blood on her hands and zero memory of the previous night. Who killed Korey Fields? Before there was a dead body, Enchanted's dreams had turned into a nightmare. Because behind Korey's charm and star power was a controlling dark side. Now he's dead, the police are at the door, and all signs point to Enchanted.
28 Days: A novel of resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto by David Safier
In Warsaw, Poland, in 1942, Mira faces impossible decisions after learning that the Warsaw ghetto is to be "liquidated," but a group of young people are planning an uprising against their Nazi captors.
Unpregnant by Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplan
Veronica Clarke is staring at a piece of plastic with two solid pink lines. With a college-bound future now disappearing before her eyes, Veronica considers a decision she never imagined she'd have to make: an abortion. The only catch: the closest place to get one is over nine hundred miles away, a fourteen-hour drive. With conservative parents, a less-than-optimal boyfriend, and no car, Veronica turns to the only person who won't judge her: Bailey Butler, a legendary misfit at Jefferson High-- and Veronica's ex-best friend. What could go wrong?
Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi with Yusef Salaam
From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. The story that I thought was my life didn't start on the day I was born. Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he's seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. "Boys just being boys" turns out to be true only when those boys are white. The story that I think will be my life starts today. Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal's bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn't commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it' With spellbinding lyricism, award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam tell a moving and deeply profound story about how one boy is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth, in a system designed to strip him of both.
The Burning by Laura Bates
After starting fresh with her mother in a Scottish fishing village, Anna learns that rumors of the "incident" have followed her, and she finds herself drawn to Maggie, a girl burned for witchcraft centuries before.
They Went Left by Monica Hesse
Zofia, a teenage Holocaust survivor, travels across post-war Europe as she searches for her younger brother and seeks to rebuild her shattered life.
The Assignment by Liza Wiemer
When an assignment given by a favorite teacher instructs a group of students to argue for the Final Solution, a euphemism used to describe the Nazi plan for the genocide of the Jewish people, Logan March and Cade Crawford are horrified. Their teacher cannot seriously expect anyone to complete an assignment that fuels intolerance and discrimination. Logan and Cade decide they must take a stand. As the school administration addresses their refusal to participate in the appalling debate, the student body, their parents, and the larger community are forced to face the issue as well.
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control. Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston
At cheerleading camp, Hermione is drugged and raped, but she is not sure whether it was one of her teammates or a boy on another team--and in the aftermath she has to deal with the rumors in her small Ontario town, the often awkward reaction of her classmates, the rejection of her boyfriend, the discovery that her best friend, Polly, is gay, and above all the need to remember what happened so that the guilty boy can be brought to justice.
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
Ever since she got pregnant freshman year, Emoni Santiago has been doing what has to be done for her daughter and her abuela. The one place she can let all that go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness. She dreams of working as a chef after she graduates, but knows that is impossible. But once Emoni starts cooking, her only choice is to let her talent break free.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Writing letters to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., seventeen-year-old college-bound Justyce McAllister struggles to face the reality of race relations today and how they are shaping him.