Just recently I had a rant about books and writing exercises which ultimately digressed into an angry rant about how I was annoyed that people are so snooty about YA books. I mean, reading is reading, right? Shouldn’t we encourage it, especially at that age? And yes and we should, but more to the point, what’s wrong with reading it as an adult? After all, adults write YA.
So now, here I am, back again, to try and tackle the reasons why I think this is complete and utter BS. And I’m fixing to break it down, too.
First. Reading is important for everyone. We should encourage it, which means starting young. That also means that some of the most important literature in a person’s life is going to be Middlegrade and Young Adult. *Maybe* Childrens also, because I friggin’ LOVED The Little Mermaid (the one with the artwork by Santore?) and it’s stuck with me since I was a little girl. Since these books are going to be the first real influences we have, they are going to have the most impact on our lives, right? Our reading careers. So we should encourage them and nurture them and make kids feel good about reading them.
But what about adults?
Well, that brings me to my first real question, Why should adults read YA?
The answer? Because YA novels focus on emotion. I read somewhere (
and no, I don’t have a reference, so don’t ask because I’m terrible with such things unless I have them written down and/or right in front of me) that reading is what helps people learn empathy. For those of you who aren’t quite sure, empathy is the ability to understand what someone else is feeling, because you are able to put yourself in their place. It isn’t the same as feeling sympathy, which means you simply feel sorry for them, though perhaps that sympathy is rooted in something like, “You poor, deviant schmuck. I was never like that and I’m sorry that you are so wretched and can’t be like me.” See how sympathy is a little different?
No, empathy means you feel what they feel. It’s an incredibly human, incredibly important trait. Without it, you’re pretty much a sociopath (
though, admittedly, I’m not a doctor of any kind, so do your own research and see if you come to the same conclusion).
So what does that mean? Does it matter *what* we read in the end so long as we’re reading? In the long run, it probably doesn’t really matter. I don’t know if anyone’s done a study on it or not, but I can tell you this honestly: I’ve read adult literature and I’ve read YA literature. Adult books focus on several things really well, but most of them fail in a couple of key areas, too.
They focus on:
- In depth plots.
- Intricate histories and physical landscapes.
- Mystery and suspense.
- Sex. Lots and lots and lots and lots and – oh, just put it on repeat or copy and paste. You get the idea. There’s a lot of it. I know, because that’s what I’m hired to write half the time and it’s kind of terrible.
And I want to say that these are not bad things. None of them. Not even the sex (
because women have a right to like sex and I fully support the opening of their eyes to indulge in something that is so often delegated solely to the male half of the species. We’re sexual creatures. We enjoy it, too. That’s okay. And maybe reading it is just more fun for us than watching it. There is nothing wrong with that and I support smut. I just don’t care for writing it.). But the problem is that they’re missing a very key element. Emotions and that’s because of the way adult books are written.
If you’ve ever read an adult book and then read a young adult book, you’ve probably noticed a few things. First, they’re written usually in third person point of view. Meaning they use “she/he” instead of “I”. Second, it’s usually omniscient. Sometimes it’s a close third or a limited third, but a lot of times we see a little bit of everyone. We don’t really get into their heads and maybe only half know (or care) what they’re feeling. All of which has a purpose. It keeps us in the dark as to who is really the good guy, who is to be trusted, and what’s really going on. Focusing on scenery or setting can help develop the atmosphere or the mood or even just give us clues about the story. And the sex? Well, yeah, it’s there’s a reason for that one, too. People have sex. It adds realism and, uh, stimulation for the reader.
All of this is good. But when we have what’s called distance from our characters, it’s a lot harder to empathize with them. And sometimes, it’s harder to give a damn what happens to them. Who cares if Sheila dies? We barely knew anything of her beyond her sparkling record as high powered CEO and super secret spy for the CIA. I mean, did she even love her family? Hell if we know.
But with YA we don’t have the same distance (usually). We generally have a first person POV that is very close. We see what they’re seeing, feel what they’re doing, know what they’re thinking. Because they tell us. Everything we see is through their eyes. It becomes very easy to understand why they do what they do and what they’re feeling, because we’re feeling it. And even the novels that are in third tend to be a close third, meaning we still focus on the main character, get in their head, and feel what they feel, even though it’s not technically from their perspective. This closeness opens us up to understanding how others feel and react. It makes us empathize.
Don’t you think that’s important?
I’m not going to drag on and talk about the quality of writing or how it doesn’t matter if you’re reading classics, adult novels, or YA romance, but I will say that Lord of the Rings was a kid’s book. And the stories that everyone’s heard over the years, passed down since forever, are kid’s stories. Fairy tales. Fiction. And I will mention that The Giver is a YA book. The Outsiders is a YA book. Island of the Blue Dolphins is a YA book. And if you think that these books don’t have value, you aren’t very sure about what value is.
And one more thing, I happen to enjoy classics, too. I love Hawthorne and I enjoyed Dracula. (
Seriously, the original. If you haven’t read it, you don’t understand what this means.) I like Virginia Woolf and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.
If you think that just because I love Divergent and the Hunger Games that I somehow don’t know what I’m talking about, or am not “grown up” then you are narrow minded and I’ve just decided that your opinion no longer matters to me.