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YA Lit, and Why Everyone Should Read It

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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