Yesterday, Ruth Graham published a post on Slate that infuriated members of the Twitterverse and Blogosophere titled: “Against YA.” No, I am not linking to it here. The subheading was: “Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.”
I get it, I do. While us here in the 2000s are reading “transparently trashy” stuff, others were spending their life as a “YA reader way back in the early 1990s” with sophisticated works like The Westing Game. Yeah, I read that too. Problematically, though, there wasn’t really much more than that out there for us avid young adult readers.
I remember having a Twitter conversation with someone about the fact that, due to a dearth of YA titles in my proscribed YA time, I read authors my mother gave me after she finished: Stephen King, John Grisham, V.C. Andrews, Sidney Sheldon (those last two scarred me for life, I think). In school, because I took honors English classes, I read Shakespeare all four years, and other canonical authors like Steinbeck, including Charles Dickens in the 9th grade. I use the term “read” loosely because at the age of fourteen, I just could not—COULD NOT—stomach finishing Great Expectations to save my life. I still can’t. In fact I have a continuing, deep-rooted aversion to Dickens. I still can’t read him as an adult. I tried.
So does that mean, since I can’t abide Dickens, that I eschew all work of “literary merit?” No. I love “literary fiction.” I love Austen, the Brontë sisters, and Thomas Hardy. I love Erin Morgenstern, Khaled Hosseini, and Ian McEwan. I also love Laini Taylor, Leigh Bardugo, Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, and Cassandra Clare (to name a few). So, why do I love YA fiction so much?
To be frank, whose business it is it but mine why I love it so much? Why should anyone—but me—care what I read?
It all started when, as a mother and high school English teacher, I wanted to be aware of the options out there for my daughter and students to read. Somewhere along the way, I fell in love with young adult literature, and I still love it. The genre provides me a “break” from life, stress, and the otherwise heavy reading I like—and am sometimes required—to do. What that means is, especially during the school year, I read more YA fiction than any other genre. Does that make my reading preferences, as an adult, somehow unacceptable? Not to me. And I’ve no doubt that countless other readers feel that way. I know for a fact that many do.
Take for instance Rae Carson, who said yesterday on Twitter:
Okay, actually, I recommend anything that's FUN or HOLDS YOUR ATTENTION or INSPIRES YOU. Just read that. Relentlessly. Shamelessly.
— Rae Carson (@raecarson) June 5, 2014
And she’s right. Reading should be something to enjoy and love and be inspired by, not something to be coerced into doing at a certain level because anyone thinks it’s more acceptable. In fact, I thought last Sunday, as I toted the final book in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy up and down Pearl Street in Boulder, just hoping for the chance to finish it because I was SO CLOSE, “Hopefully people will see this book and ask me about it so I can recommend it!”
Yes, I balance my reading choices (as you can see on my Goodreads page), but I do tend toward escapism. Am I embarrassed? Clearly not. Should I be? No. During the school year, the worlds of Eretz and Panem and Ravka give me a place to go, away from grading and student issues and, quite frankly, the constant hectic state of my life. I intend to keep visiting other young adult worlds, and times, as often as I see fit.
I hope you all will too.