Despite the enormous success of YA books in the marketplace and a growing awareness that many YA readers are actually adults (A new study reports 55% of purchasers are over 18), teen books still have a lot of detractors. Interestingly, these detractors are not the kind of people who “just don’t like YA” the way one might “just not be into mysteries.” They are often incredibly condescending, implying that YA is not serious or well-written enough to count as “literature” (a word that has always been very subjective.) Although I might just be preaching to the choir, as I must assume anyone who actually follows this blog does in fact like YA, I would like to set a few misconceptions straight.
YA is not a genre.
It is a group of books aimed at a particular age group (obviously, teens), and in fact includes just about every genre: action, fantasy, mystery, historical fiction, science fiction, realistic fiction, etc. Generally, only erotica is excluded, although there are tons of marketing statements about the “steamy romance” in some of these books.
Thus, declaring that “All YA books are horrible” is like saying all children books are terrible or all adult books are terrible. Try it sometime. I think you’ll get some incredulous stares.
YA is not necessarily commercial.
Of course if a book sells well, a publisher is going to look to acquire similar titles. But this is no reason to assume that every teen novel is a Twilight rip-off and no one in the industry is interested in art.
Publishers really do love books. Editors get paid little enough one has to believe they do it for love of the job. But at the end of the day, a publishing house is also a business. Most books—often the ones the editors really fell in love with—lose money. To make their publication possible, the house needs to publish some titles they know will sell solidly. And adult publishers do this, too. Fifty Shades of Gray rip-offs are in, and the publishers are just as aware they’re not “good literature” as we are.
So, yes, there are “literary” YA books, just as there are “literary” adult books. Sometimes one has to look for them. Sometimes, like The Fault in Our Stars, they spend lots of time on the New York Times Bestsellers List.
So what is YA?
YA books do come in every genre, but they have a few key things in common. Generally, they focus on topics that are important to teens: creating an identity, fitting in, transitioning from childhood to adulthood. The books attract a variety of readers because these themes are universal in some sense; every adult was once a teen and can relate to the character’s struggles and discoveries.
And yes, this does mean the protagonists will practically always be teens.
Finally, YA is not a fad.
Because YA refers only to an age group, YA books have a lot of room to grow. Being a teen cannot go out of style the way vampire romances can. If books for preschoolers and books for middle school children have managed to stay, it seems safe to assume that books for teens will, as well—which is a great contribution to literature.
10 thoughts on “In Defense of YA”
I don’t read much YA, but I completely agree with you. There will always be thoughtless people who like to make blanket statements based on very little evidence (or sometimes no evidence at all).
Sometimes I read a YA book and think, “This is what everyone hates so much about it!!!” But then I remember the same can be said about every group of books.
Preaching to the choir or no, I love this discussion. When I first started blogging, I avoided YA like the plague for all of those misconceptions, etc. And now? I can’t freaking get enough. I feel like I have YEARS of catching up to do because the bunch is so huge. Anyway, thanks for clearing the air concisely and effectively. : )
I’m glad you’ve discovered some YA books you like! Thanks for commenting!
Sadly my mom is one who thinks YA is just cheap commercial junk. She tells me I should just be reading “the classics”, and stop reading YA. And yet, every single YA book I’ve convinced her to read is something she’s enjoyed. I’m just glad we know the truth (:
I like to remind people (hopefully in a non-annoying way ;b) that many of the classics were that popular trash in their own day. For instance, Charles Dickens was wildly popular–does the fact that he appealed to the masses make him a bad author? Of course not! Some YA books could very well end up being classics some day.
I was going to comment basically the same thing. 😉 I do think there’s something to the fact that YA is very new, so it hasn’t weeded out enough of the commercial books to have its own classics, but I have no doubt there will be YA classics in the future.
Arthur Conan Doyle was also fairly commercial. Bringing back dead characters just because readers complained.
I haven’t read it yet, but someone told me that Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone is literary teen fiction, so it might be worth a try.
Brilliant post, and so relevant. Especially with the whole “YA is not a genre” nonsense—when people say YA is their favorite genre I always roll my eyes, or when people say their least favorite genre is YA. It’s like saying your hate all adult fiction, likes you said.
It’s a shame there’s such a stigma attached to YA, though in some cases it does seem a bit deserved. The amount of bad YA that becomes popular is surprising.
I’ve had the same thought: “WHY is this popular??? Why are you doing this to me?!” But I would blame people for buying it, to some extent. :p And there are books in adult fiction that I think the same thing about.
In the end, though, I think it’s great that people are reading, and maybe they’ll eventually move on to “better” books. That’s very subjective, of course. And I think it’s important to recognize that sometimes people know books are “fluffy” but that’s all they want sometimes, entertainment, and maybe they’re reading War and Peace on some other day.