Sunday, May 22, 2011

Reflection: YA Lit

bad dreams fear streetI should start with an admission, to give this post a little bit of context. So here goes: I have been trying to resist reading YA since I was in my mid-twenties. There you go. The thing is, when I was a kid, YA lit was simple and easy. It was for children, to inspire them read, and while some of it was good, it was also often formulaic and highly simplistic. We read things like the Fear Street Series by R.L. Stein, and they were awesome, but they were clearly for teenagers. Before that, it was Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. Young Adult was for, well, young adults... for teenagers.

Nancy DrewHeck, I read many of the Fear Street novels, but I did so when I was of the appropriate age to fit into their target audience, while I was still young enough to enjoy them for what they were, without my mind wrapping around the obviousness of many of the plots and destroying my suspension of disbelief. I could do it then. Now, as an English grad student, I'm trained to see what's going on in the book, which renders much of the YA from my youth completely unreadable. Wow, okay, that makes me sound like a lit snob, doesn't it? It wasn't meant that way. I enjoyed them then, I probably still would, but for the nostalgia, not the story.

flowers_in_the_atticMany of my friends in high school, for lack of YA reading with depth, turned to the books like Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews. I never did read it, fairly certain my mother would have sent me back to the library to put the book back where I got it. My friends all seemed to love them, but that series was far from the YA lit of R.L Stein and Carolyn Keene. Still, without much interesting reading appropriate to a 15 year old, they went right to the "adult-ish" books. I still haven't read Flowers in the Attic but I'm going to have to put that series on my reading list.

HPCoverThen, when I was in my twenties, something happened. Well, a few things, really. The first, I became a much more avid reader. I consumed books for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The second, I found Harry Potter. Not at first, of course, in fact I was able to reject Harry Potter for years. But eventually, I was convinced to read them by friends who were adamant fans. My gal pal, Amanda, lent me the first three books in the series and I tore through them. From that point on, I was hooked. I devoured the rest of the series, waited patiently for the 7th book, and when it came out, I did the same. I laughed, cried, and began to realize that YA lit was not only for children. Rather, some of the themes were so adult, I wondered how any child, with their limited life experience, could understand them.

twilightStill, I wasn't completely sold on the whole YA thing. I wondered if Harry Potter wasn't simply an exception, rather than a rule. It was fantastic, no doubt, I don't think anyone would argue with that (though I have a professor who hates it). Then, Twilight came out and I rejected that, too, but somewhere along the way I began to realize, much to my surprise, that YA lit had evolved. From simplistic plots for children, to something that all ages could enjoy, YA lit had grown up. It was defined not by its unwillingness to address the hard themes, but such elements as the lack of graphic sex. It addressed issues through teenage protagonists, but that didn't make it a genre strictly for children.

Hunter Games CoverThese days, with YA lit having evolved so thoroughly, I have abandoned any qualms I had about reading it. In fact, I embrace it, as do many adults around the book blogosphere, I've noticed. Now, I look for titles I want to read, without regard for their labels, but for their stories--I recently finished, and loved, the Hunger Games trilogy, a quite heavy YA lit trilogy and am currently reading The Girl in the Steel Corset. Now that I'm in my early thirties, I've finally come to terms with YA lit, but it's been a winding road. Sometimes, that's okay. Sometimes, it's not just the journey that matters, but the destination, too.


  1. Fantastic post and I couldn't agree with you more on how YA lit has evolved so much. The books I remember most reading as a kid were the Nancy Drew novels and the Babysitter Club books. But they never really sucked me into reading.

    Twilight was the book that got me really reading several years ago and I haven't looked back since. I often wonder if the type of YA books we have nowadays were available when I was a teenager, if I would have been reading more. I think it's fantastic though that the books for teens are so much better these days because it hopefully encourages teens to read more.

    On Flowers in the Attic, I remember reading a loving that as a kid (just the one book though). I actually don't remember much about it at this point, but it's one of those books I would love to go back and read again one day.

    ~ Sarah ♥ I'm Loving Books

  2. Yeah i think it has evolved, i'm 21 but don't see my enjoyment of ya lessening. I think i'll be a grandma finding an excuse to buy my grandchildren ya so i can read them.

    Flowers in the Attic is definitely worth a read.


  3. I have never really thought about how much YA has changed, but you made some great points! new follower!

    Somer @ A Bird's Eye Review