It’s National Reading Month! Speech-language pathologists love books and reading as literacy is tied to language development (and vice-versa). We spend a lot of time on this page talking about picture books, but ages 0-18 have a wide span of book choices. So today, let’s celebrate a rather underrepresented sub-section of literature on this page: young adult literature. Who better to explain to us this genre than a YA librarian! We are very lucky to have Beth Kirchenberg, YA librarian and fellow Manistee High School alum write a post for us this week (and next week too…just you wait!) to tell us all about YA literature. Take it away, Beth!
What Exactly Is a Young Adult Book?
According to the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), YA books are aimed at kids aged 12 to 18 years. (The definition of YA is increasingly fuzzy, the cultural definition of “young adult” now stretches to age 30.) In most (if not all cases), the protagonists of the novels fall within those age ranges, and the story is told through teenage eyes. Twelve to 18 is a big spread in age, from both reading and personal developmental levels.
There’s also a big spread in subject matter. YA books are known to span all manner of worlds and topics — contemporary, dystopian, romance, paranormal, drugs, sex, gender issues, parental divorce, terminal cancer, bullying, etc. But whether the protagonists are competing in Hunger Games or high school football, one thing that unites the most successful books in the YA genre is the high emotional stakes. Whether a literal life or death struggle or a school crush story, the emotional stakes and the emotional intensity are commensurate with the raging hormonal intensity of the genre’s intended audience. It’s not surprising that YA is always dealing with transformation, whether it be realistic or supernatural. It’s the only genre that can always be both. It shows teen life in full chaos. And that means constant change. The genre is also just as open to male readers as it is to females.
7 Reasons to encourage your teens to read YA instead of that dusty old classic.
- YA is entertaining
I think first and foremost, they’re good books. Of course not every single YA novel that’s published is great, but the majority of them are high-quality stories with compelling characters, gripping plots, swoon-worthy romances, high stakes, and complex themes. No matter the genre, they all tend to be page-turners. They have to be in order to attract teen readers who could easily pick up a video game or text their friends instead of reading. YA books need to draw readers in from the very first page, and make them not want to stop reading until they’ve reached the end.
- YA is well written
The protagonists in YA novels may be young, but the writing is not dumbed down. Some of the most gorgeous prose I’ve ever read has been within YA books. Unlike a lot of adult literary fiction, YA books incorporate beautiful language without lengthy descriptions that slow down the pace of the story.
- YA tackles serious issues, but in a hopeful way
I’ve read young adult books about school shootings, murder, drug abuse, eating disorders, suicide, rape, mental health issues, and other serious topics. They’re not afraid to tackle the tough stuff, and they handle these serious issues in an honest way, with characters readers want to root for. Not all young adult books have happy endings, but there’s usually a glimmer of hope even in the more tragic stories. With all of the terrible things happening in the world, I crave that hope in the fiction I read.
- YA gives readers all the feels
Another way young adult authors hook their readers is with their emotions. Most YA involves a romantic storyline, even if it’s not the main plot, and authors create character romances that teens want to “ship.” As an adult, it sometimes feels a bit silly to get so excited about two teenagers falling in love, but I’m telling you, it’s a wonderful form of escapism. Teen romance can be especially raw and messy, because for a lot of these teenagers, it’s their first time falling for someone. Some adults like how “clean” these books are – there’s no gratuitous sex, and even if sex is involved, the scenes usually fade to black before the real action happens. Also, not all of the emotional relationships in YA are romantic. I’ve read a lot of YA books about friendship and family dynamics that have made me laugh and cry.
- YA is imaginative and plays with format
Young adult authors are always looking for interesting ways to tell their stories. There are YA novels-in-verse, epistolary novels, novels including characters’ drawings or fan-fiction, and books told entirely in diaries, letters and instant messages.
- Coming-of-age YA is relatable
In my parents’ generation, it was normal to graduate college, get a job, get married, and stay in the same career for decades. Millennials are different. As they head into adulthood, they are still figuring out who they are, and what/who they want to be. The emotions and self-discoveries happening aren’t all that different than what teenagers go through. Reading about teenage characters trying to figure out their place in the world doesn’t feel all that foreign to many adults.
- YA stories are so good; they’re being made into movies and TV shows
More and more YA books are being adapted for the screen. Ienjoy watching the adaptations, but always find that the books are way better.
If you loved this post, please be sure to return next week when Beth gives us her absolute favorite YA novel picks! #howluckyarewe
About the guest blogger: