YA Lit, and Why Everyone Should Read It

July 27th, 2011

stack-pinterest1Maureen Johnson brought my attention to a great post this morning on In The Library With The Lead Pipe by Gretchen Kolderup, a YA librarian, about everything that’s great about the category, and why people should read it. It’s a long post, but well worth your time. I just wanted to pull out some of my favorite bits and talk about them briefly.

On why she reads YA almost exclusively, and would even if she wasn’t a YA librarian:

YA lit has a freshness that I really enjoy, and it rarely gets bogged down in its own self-importance. YA lit is also mostly free of the melancholy, nostalgia, and yearning for the innocent days of childhood that I find so tedious in adult literary fiction.

When you see adult fiction with teen protagonists, and wonder why that book wasn’t published as YA, it’s often because of that “melancholy, nostalgia, and yearning”. YA isn’t just about the age of the main character.

As to why she refers to it not as a genre, but as a category (my preference is to refer to it as an age range):

In some ways, YA lit has become a lot like literature for grown-ups: it is both commercial and creative, it covers a spectrum of critical literary quality, and it has titles across many genres.

Basically, everything you could find in adult literature, you can find in YA, plus more.

And speaking about those multiple genres:

One of the biggest differences in the landscape of YA lit is that there’s more genre-blending than in adult literature. It may be because teens’ literary tastes are still developing, while adults are more likely to have very particular reading habits, but I think it’s also because the newness of YA lit allows for innovation.

She also quotes a great post by YA author Chris Wooding, in which he writes:

There’s a similar lack of boundaries within the YA genre field. There’s no high fantasy or hard SF, no New Weird or urban fantasy. Genre definitions mean nothing. You want to write a steampunk post-apocalypse adventure full of cities that drive around eating each other? Or a book about a child passing through alternate realities in search of a weak and feeble God? Or a dystopian sci-fi about an underground city that’s running out of light? Go for it!

Everyone one of these books will just be on a shelf in the YA section alphabetized by author, but in separate sections that are of interest only to readers who already know about them. Honestly, that’s one of the reasons I was disappointed by Barnes & Noble’s decision to create a “Paranormal Romance” shelf within their YA section. Before, if a reader already knew they liked Twilight, they could go to the bookstore and look at the shelf, and might come across books by James John Marsden, Robin McKinley, or Sarah Mylnowski, just to name a few authors around Meyer on my own bookshelves. With B&N’s new shelving system, all they’ll find is more paranormal romance — which may be what they think they want, but they won’t know about the rest of what’s out there. And that, to be, is a shame.

She also points out an intriguing idea about trends in the market:

In the same way that youth culture is focused on what’s new and trendy, so is YA lit, which means librarians need to remain alert to new publications and weed aggressively.It also helps YA lit create an environment that encourages innovation.

Your average reader might only see the “darkness” in YA fiction, but close observers have seen trends as diverse as vampires, werewolves, angels, mermaids, dystopians, retellings of Greek myths, and more come and go. What’s next? We won’t know until it hits, and as soon as it does, it’s a sure bet the next big thing is right behind it, waiting for its turn in the sun.

Anyway, there’s so much more in the article, it’s well worth your time to read the whole post. You may even find some great new suggestions for your own TBR piles!

Image found via Pinterest, by Carlos Prez on DeviantArt.
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12 Responses to “YA Lit, and Why Everyone Should Read It”

  1. Chelsey Says:

    I really agree with your point about the Paranormal Romance section. Since I'm a person who tends to choose books by glancing and grabbing, it bothers me that this specific genre has been pulled out of the overall YA shelving.

  2. Stephanie Scott Says:

    I agree with the category; YA isn't really a genre, but it seems like we're stuck with thinking it is for the meantime. I just love that the YA sections are getting bigger in more bookstores!

  3. Krista V. Says:

    At my local library, they used to relegate the YA section to two measly little shelves about the width of an assemble-it-yourself bookshelf. Now it takes up half of an entire wall, and just six months ago, it only took up a quarter of that wall.

    Even cooler, I now see a lot of parents browsing that half-wall with their teenagers. I think mainstream adult readers – and just plain, old parents who maybe haven't read a book since that comparative lit class they took back in college – are starting to discover the true breadth and depth of YA literature.

  4. Krista V. Says:

    Oh, and I should add, what a great way to give teens and parents a little bit more common ground.

  5. Hallie Says:

    All of that really resonates for me. I was terribly disappointed when BN changed their shelving. The local indie has a similar way of shelving the YA by certain criteria, but it’s such a compact selection that I don’t mind as much as I do when I go to BN, where the latest releases and the end of the sf/f are rows (and around a corner) apart!

  6. Tim White Says:

    I like reading YA as one of my main fiction genres. Since I read a massive number of technical and business books, choosing YA is a great way to pick something that’s typically lighter of mood, if not of subject matter.

    I’ll still read my Jim Butcher and my Lee Child, but there’s more and more good YA every day.

    Thanks to the Oprah book club, so many books have been written about terrible things – the rise of YA almost feels like backlash against it.

    I really appreciated Ransom Riggs’ view on insanity from a teen’s POV – made me think without wallowing in melacholy.

    Full disclosure: I have a degree in Russian Literature, so I may have overdosed on Melancholy back in the early 90′s. :)

  7. Gretchen Says:

    Glad you liked the article!

    I've seen some libraries moving toward a genre-based organization system and I'm so torn. I know that patrons like browsing by what they know they like, but I love the serendipity of all the YA lit being in one place–and what do you *do* with books that don't belong just in one genre or another? I'm keeping our YA section all alphabetical by author and creating book lists that highlight different genres or topics. People seem to be okay with that for now–we'll see where it goes.

  8. Linda Says:

    Gretchen Kolderup definitely has the right idea. Having worked in a MS/HS library for 11 years I watched excitedly as the YA section grew and grew; along with the number of teen readers. The draw of the young adult storyline is the first step in providing an interest that continues on through the development of a "lifetime" reader.

  9. Jess Says:

    Did you mean John Marsden?

  10. DaphneUn Says:

    That is cool.

  11. DaphneUn Says:

    Glad to hear it, Gretchen! And thanks for stopping by!

  12. Jess Says:

    Also: great post. The genre-blending and lack of boundaries in YA is one of the things that really draws me to it. John Marsden's brilliant Tomorrow series were my favourite books all through my teenage years. It's only now at 26 that I would look at them and think, "speculative fiction" or whatever.

    I think as a child and as a teenager I really only cared about good stories, not genres. I would never have really differentiated between sci fi or fantasy or historical fiction. It's a shame for adult fiction in general and for genre fiction writers, a lot of whom write amazing, complex, brilliant stories but they get put on the fantasy shelf or the sci fi shelf and somehow, in that action, downgraded. Shame really.

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