Wednesday, August 13, 2014

YA and You

I'd been wanting to write a discussion post about YA for the longest time! And I finally did that! YA and Me is the most personal I've gotten on my blog. I talked about my past, some of the things I've been through, and what the young adult genre has meant to me growing up to the present. I was going to just leave it at that, but then I started to wonder what other people think of the genre. YA is a genre that's been discredited, judged, and ridiculed for years and I wanted to shed more positive light on it (especially because of a recent Slate article). So I decided to call for help! I asked authors and bloggers if they'd like to participate in this discussion I was having. I was so nervous no one would be interested, so I was floored with the positive responses! This was the question that I asked them:

What does YA mean to YOU?

And here is what they said:

Authors!
To me, YA means figuring out who you are and finding the courage to become that person. 
–Bethany Neal, author of My Last Kiss

Those teen years we go through, are an incredible time. They’re exciting, fun, awful, painful, scary, amazing, and everything in between. It’s when we discover the world and where we fit in. In our teen years, our emotions are pure, and all that we go through is intense and totally confusing. When I write YA, my characters are about to take a journey in discovering the answers they seek in life. There’ll be struggles and mistakes, bends and twists in the road, triumphs and tears, but that’s how teens themselves uncover all life has to offer. The journey my characters undertake must be deep. They must challenge themselves to sort out any inner fears and frustrations, and while doing so, remain completely relatable. 
–Joanne Wadsworth, author of the Magio-Earth and Highlander Heat series

The high school years are all about firsts. First love, first heartbreak, first taste of freedom. You push the boundaries of your relationships, both with your family and with your friends, and you explore. You make a bazillion mistakes, but while they totally seem monumental at the time, very few of them have permanent consequences. As for college, that’s all about discovery. You build upon what you began in high school, you narrow down your likes and interests, you experiment, and you find out who you truly are.For me, high school gave me a safe environment to test the waters, to step outside my box and see what would happen. I had my first real boyfriend and many others to follow. I went to countless school dances, some with boys, some with friends, some that ended well, and one that ended horribly bad. I went to class and even skipped once to go to an Alanis Morissette concert—though I had parental permission, which severely detracts from the cool factor. I had good friendships…and some not so good ones. I learned from it all. 
–Rachel Harris, YA and Adult author

YA means finding yourself. My main characters are at a point in their life when they're "coming into their own" and even though they're fictional, I love traveling their journey with them. Many times they experience powerful firsts. First love, first loss, first heartbreak, first major success, etc. Those firsts makes for powerful and emotional stories, which is why I've always loved reading YA and why I chose to write that genre. 

YA to me means possibility. At the teen stage in everyone's life, our entire existence is about change--whether it be if/where we will go to college, finding love, deciding what we want to do with our lives, etc. These themes carry through every genre too. In my YA fantasy, my MC, Meira, faces the issue of her future and the plethora of possibilities she is confronted with just as strongly as someone in our world. The age depicted in YA represents that terrifyingly wondrous time when EVERYTHING is possible and nothing is certain. Basically, it means hope, and that's extremely addictive to me. 
–Sara Raasch, author of Snow Like Ashes


Bloggers!

To me, YA is life. Mostly everything I read is of the young adult genre, and in the rare instance that I attempt to branch out, I always find myself gravitating back towards YA. This shouldn't be surprising, since I am a young adult myself, and as such, I am part of the targeted audience (not that I'd stop reading YA when I'm no longer an adolescent). Yet despite the fact that I am the "ideal" age for this category, I do find myself being judged for reading an "un-literary" genre by those online and in real life, both personally and generally. It's happened to me plenty of times; that automatic spark of happiness when someone sees a teen taking pleasure in reading flickers to disappointment as they notice the obviously YA cover.

Why does this happen? Whether I'm a teen or not, how would you know the quality of a book based on its genre and/or cover? I'll be the first to admit that there are a ton of crappy young adult novels out there -- check out my ranty reviews if you don't believe me. But you know what? Literary fiction has its fair share of crappy books (which is an entirely subjective observation, further proving my point). And although I haven't read as many adult books as I have YA, I've still read some, and I'm convinced the only key difference between these two genres is one word: sex. There is also the other factor of age, more specifically the coming-of-age quality that makes young adult novels so much more endearing, but I think the only thing you won't find in YA that you'd otherwise find in adult is the act of sex (because I don't think any young adult novel I've read has went into details; wouldn't want those parents to be raging at publishers XD). Other than that, you can easily find books that handle dark topics and go into deep issues such as depression and suicide and racism, much like any "quality" adult novel would.

My point in all this rambling? There is absolutely nothing wrong with reading young adult. Those offensive articles popping up all over the World Wide Web not only angers adults, but angers me as a teen. Is there something wrong with me, that I don't read adult novels? Am I too "immature" to handle it, which is why I must read YA? All of these thoughts went through my head as I read these derogatory articles and their comments from literary elitists. But in the end, my recurring response was, "I don't give a shit."

Back to what YA means to me, I think it has helped shape me into the person I am today. I've been reading it for about 3-4 years, and from each book, whether it be good or bad, I learn some sort of life lesson and gain insight into life, which I really need as a developing teen. I've been through more experiences than any random teen can boast of (imaginary? Bah humbug). I've found solace in relating to characters my age and learning from their mistakes and broadening my scope of life. I've learned that every person has a story and that I shouldn't judge people based on my initial perception of them. Basically, YA has succeeded in helping me become an open-minded person instead of a judgmental prick. 

The verdict: Without YA, I'd be a hollow shell of my present self. 


What does YA mean to me?  I think that for me to properly answer this question, we need to go all the way back to when YA first became an actual "thing", and not just another branch of children's fiction.  The psychologist, G. Stanley Hall, is the person first credited with defining adolescence as a stage of life.  Before that, you were a child, and then you became an adult, there was no middle ground.  As someone who is currently in their teen years, I think that that is a very important distinction to make.  As any teenager would know, oftentimes, people don't take you seriously, because you're "just a child".  Yet, I know that I've seen things and I know more about the world then many adults that I know.  YA is a place where teenagers are respected (most of the time), even though they may not be legal adults.  You have character's like Divergent's Tris, who goes through so much, and yet manages to stay so strong is the kind of character that can be admired by anyone at any age, not just teenagers, yet many adults who have read the book say that Tris isn't an accurate representation of any teenager, that no one who is 16 could possibly be as selfless and brave as her.  While there are certainly teenagers that are immature and irresponsible as many adults think that we are, there are also many teenagers who aren't, teenagers who are more mature and responsible than many adults.  An excellent example is a post on Slate by Ruth Graham entitled "Against YA: Read Whatever You Want.  But You Should Feel Embarrassed When What You're Reading Was Written For Children."  Within this article, Graham calls Divergent and Twilight "transparently trashy...which no one defends as serious literature"  and says that the ends to YA novels, example include The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor and Park, are "uniformly satisfying" and that YA aims to be "pleasurable" and that it's rewards are "escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia", when these things are universal for all reading, not just YA.  It's living in a world with these adults that either can't remember what it's like to be a teenager, or was a very different person than I am now, is what pushes me to read YA.  YA has characters that I can empathize with a million times better than I could with 99% of all adult novels.  In a nutshell, I read YA because I love it and I plan on continuing to read it until I don't enjoy it anymore.  At it's heart, YA is just an age range, it deals with the same topics as any adult books would and that's what makes it so universal. 
–Amber, The Book Cookies


I started reading ya as an actual teen. I thought Meg Cabot was a genius because her voice sounded a lot like my own so I devoured her books and looked for those with a similar feel. As I got older, my life has changed, obviously, and some parts no longer apply to the strictly teen demographic–but some parts still do. I didn't have my first kiss until I was twenty, and that first kiss was with the guy I first said "I love you" to. I still deal with insecurity, anxiety, body issues, boy issues (the question "does he like me?!" plagues me still!), parent problems,  friend drama, etc. I have a job, and the so-called "high school drama" has simply morphed into workplace drama, but it's actually exactly the same. While these are all issues that adult lit answers as well, usually it's from a very jaded divorced-with-two-kids point of view. I'm in my twenties now, and I actually still identify with the attitude of ya rather than that "older" world view. I prefer the honesty and diversity that young adult has to offer. 

It's amazing because as I have grown, so has ya. I like to say that Jennifer Echols writes her books from the diary of my life because somehow I have faced obstacles that are either similar or straight-up identical to the conflict in her books. In my twenties, I'm still experiencing firsts. I'm still facing conflicts that the heroines and heroes of ya face (although sadly far fewer dragons, zombies, gargoyles, and vampires!) so who is a faceless byline with an overlarge sense of superiority to tell me that ya is not for me? Who are these sensational journalists to shame me for being a proud reader of ya or a reader in general? They are no one I know, and one thing that has gotten better as I've grown older is that I no longer care what these people say about me. They want the page views, and they'll get them. So what? I only care that I have created long-lasting friendships with readers, bloggers, and authors from all over the world, and that I have a massive collection of books that keeps me blissfully busy. I have lived thousands of lives in the books I've read, and I'm hoping I'll yet live thousands more. Young adult lit has simply given me a community and a hobby that makes me happy. 

***

Thank you guys so much for helping me out! I enjoyed reading all of your answers, and it just makes me so happy to spread more love and positiveness toward YA. <3 

If I did more of these in the future, would that interest you guys? Because I had a lot of fun writing up the posts and reading everyone else's responses! :)

Your turn: what does YA mean to you?

8 comments:

  1. I have to say I find myself asking this question all the time. After the hideous Slate article, I think "Why all the haters?"
    And now whenever I hear about the holier than thou attitude of "oh you're reading YA?! Ugh, how [insert rude remark]." I can't help but feel those people are bigots who don't have much going on with their pretentious attitude.
    How is Moby-Dick any better or worse than Vampire academy? Ok, they're completely different genres, but still. I think it's dumb to judge a book based on genre. I read YA in high school. I read Ya now, in my late 20s. I'll read YA forever. I love it because it is easy to understand. It's not filled with overly useless language, or complex to the point of boring you to death. Granted, some are, but what I'm saying is that for the most part I love Ya because it's Story story story! The story is what shines, and it's so powerful and unhinged compared to adult fic that I find myself taking more pleasure in it than adult books. I still read and love Adult lit, but there's something I would miss if I that was all I would read.
    Great post, Holly!
    -diamond @ Dee's Reads

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    1. Thank you, Diamond!! :)

      It seems people are more judgy when it comes to YA than any other genre (except for maybe ones that push the boundaries on conventional). Why? Because teenagers don't understand love and the complexities that come with being an adult? I think that being a teenager is more complex than anything. You go through so much in a short period of time, and you're struggling with life and relationships and your identity. People saying being an adult is harder, but just surviving high school is a feat all its own.

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  2. A beautifully written post, Holly. Thanks so much for allowing me to be a part of it.

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    1. Thank YOU for being so kind and supportive and enthusiastic about it! :)

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  3. Great conversation! Lovely to see so many people weighing in. Long live YA books! :)

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    1. Thank you for being one of my authors. :)

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  4. I think for me, Sara Raasch said it perfectly: It is about possibility. So much in life seems out of control, unsurmountable even, but when I read YA I feel like there is hope. That someone who may not believe in herself (or himself, if applicable) can transform into the person that they want to be. That we can defeat demons, both externally and internally. I never found that sense of hope in most "adult" books that I do in YA. Such a lovely post, thanks to all the authors and bloggers who shared, too!

    -Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight

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    1. Thank you, Shannon. :) Yes, I do love what Sara said! I love the idea that people can change and find themselves. And I think it applies to NA, as well as YA. High school is where you try to find yourself, but I've noticed that struggle with identity doesn't end there. But YA is slowly making me realize that it's a much more important time for people. And it's why I want to work with teenagers, to help them fight their demons and look forward to a future. :)

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Comments always make me smile. :) Seriously. Even if you comment on the post weeks or months later, it makes my day! So don't hesitate to leave your thoughts even if it's been a long time since the post was published. I'll try to reply to you, especially if you ask a question, but sometimes life happens. But I do read and appreciate every single one of them because I know how hard it can be to find the time or energy to comment. So a heartfelt THANK YOU for brightening my day when you do. <3