I have been reading Young Adult fiction ever since I discovered the teen section of my local library. It was brand new, complete with a bright red couch and a long line of shelves. My 11-year-old self was wide-eyed when she walked into that small corner. She had been restricted to the children’s section for years.
The first young adult book I recall reading was The Adoration of Jenna Fox. It’s about a girl who wakes from a year-long coma to find that she has no recollection of her past. What’s so interesting is that it’s set in the future, but it doesn’t focus too much on the fact that it’s in the future. The technology, social developments, and environmental disasters are explored, but they are not the center of the story. Jenna’s search for her identity is.
Young Adult novels are some of the best pieces of literature in today’s world. Though many of them focus on romance, dystopian worlds, or the supernatural, some actually have great messages for its readers.
One of my favorites may be Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. I gave this book to my younger sister because she shares a name with the main character. But I also pushed her to read it because it is just so amazing. Judy Blume opened her reader’s eyes to a whole new world. She introduced two generations to menstruation, masturbation, and sex.
Blume’s most controversial story, Forever, focuses on Katherine and Michael as they fall in love. At the center of this story is their developing sexuality. As Blume says on her website, the story was actually inspired by a request her daughter made. Blume’s daughter wanted a book about two people who have sex, but no one dies. So Blume wrote of first love, first times, and first heartbreaks. No one dies. No one gets pregnant. Everyone is consenting. It’s a beautiful, realistic story.
However, some Gen Yers think that the stories they read nowadays project an unrealistic view on life. One teenager, 16-year-old Jamie Fitzgerald*, said, “Most YA fiction I’ve read just frustrates me. I find them frequently centered around girl meets guy, and then their lives are suddenly better. That’s not reality.”
Personally, I enjoy losing myself in a fantasy. Now, that I may have ruined real life romance for myself, but that’s what happens. We all have unrealistic expectations. Sometimes they’re crushed. Other times, by some miracle, our thought-to-be unrealistic expectations become reality. That’s how life is: completely unpredictable.
There is one aspect of most Young Adult novels that really deserves credit. Death is a big chunk of Young Adult fiction nowadays. I constantly hear avid readers complaining about the death of their favorite character. There are even jokes circling social media about how J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, and Cassandra Clare can simply snap their fingers and kill your favorite character.
In an article on The Guardian, Rupert Wallis explains why he believes death is so important in Young Adult novels. He even argues that adults could learn a thing or two from the amount of death present in these books. Wallis explains that the reaction characters have when another character dies is crucial to helping teens consider how death shapes life. It forces us to ask questions like, “How do I live?” and “Who should I be?”
The more I thought about Wallis’s argument, the more I started to consider the importance of Harry Potter, the book series that shaped a generation.
I started reading Harry Potter when I was 11. My teacher asked us to pick a book and write a report on it. My first choice was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I finished the series a year later. On BoingBoing, a blog site, Caroline Siede rates Harry Potter as the book that defined a generation. She put Harry Potter up there with The Beatles in the 1960s, Star Wars in the 1970s, and John Hughes films in the 1980s. Harry Potter defined the kids born in the 1990s. I was one of those kids. J.K. Rowling taught me how to love reading.
Books are so important to teenagers. They teach us how to love, how to stand up to authority, and how to win a war, no matter how big or how small. We have the capacity and the ability to overcome any challenge. We just need the right circumstances, the right mindset, and a little push.
*Names changed to protect identity
This article was written by Maryssa Gordon, a writer for dusk magazine.