Okay, so a few weeks ago I was reading an article. It was otherwise a very interesting article, about Indian history, but then the author went and said this
‘The misconstruals [of Indian history] leave many people[…] with[… ]a young adult version of Indian history’ (italics mine)
Now, I can’t be certain that the author of this article specifically meant young adult literature. But the implication—that teenagers are somehow less smart, less sophisticated than adults, left me seething—especially because it isn’t unique.
There seems to be this idea that what young people want to read—and what a lot of adults want to read too—is somehow lesser for being marketed towards teenagers. How does that make sense?
Teenagers don’t have fully developed brains (or ‘not fully myelinated. Yes, I can use sophisticated vocabulary). But that doesn’t mean we’re stupid. It doesn’t mean that what we have to say and what we want to read is unsophisticated. In fact, a lot of teenagers have taken or are taking literature classes, and could probably analyse adult books very sensibly. But instead, we read YA books. This isn’t because we aren’t capable of reading adult books, and it isn’t because YA books are dumbed down to our level. It’s because YA books and their characters represent us on a basic level—having characters our age who share the struggles of growing up and figuring out who you are (not that I’m trying to criticise adults who read YA).
I’ve read a fair few adult books. I have, in fact, enjoyed many of them. Probably I’m going to read more as I get older. To me, those books were in no way better than YA books. They were a little more explicit about certain things than YA books are (and those things aren’t usually sex, it’s more the complexity of adult relationships). But I look at the YA I read, and the way YA tells stories is by no means lesser. Look at the complex storytelling used in Illuminae—do many adult books dare experiment in that fashion? Look at the compassion in The Wall—could an adult character have told that story? Look at the complex layers of reality created in Made You Up—could an adult writer have done any better? Look at the sophisticated humour and adventure in The Wee Free Men—is it lesser than the Discworld books aimed at adults?
Sure, YA has so much I love, that you sometimes need to dig a bit harder to find in literary adult books. Adventure! Transitions into different stages of life! Romance! Beautiful writing! Community! There is nothing wrong with that. It might be a good thing, even. YA can be beautiful and sophisticated, even if it isn’t always. This misconception that teenagers are lesser has to go away.
Young adults need books written for them (but not exclusively. Adults can join in too). But just because the people reading these books are teenagers, it doesn’t mean that they’re worse books. There seems to be a pervading notion in our society that teenagers are somehow ‘lesser’ than adults—for being interested in pop culture, for not having degrees yet, for generally being responsible for the corruption and mayhem of how things used to be. As such, people dismiss what young adults are interested in—or what is designed for young adults—as not worth their time. And so people—like the person who wrote that article—use the words ‘young-adult’ as derogatory, as implying that something is not refined or sophisticated or good enough. But that isn’t true, and it doesn’t make sense. I’m not really sure how to change this (wrong wrong) notion. But I’m going to keep reading and writing young adult books. I’m going to keep analysing them and loving them and blogging about them. And those people with different opinions to mine, those people who are simply wrong can suck it up.
What do you love about young adult books? Do you feel like some adults judge them? Tell me in the comments!