Why YA?

Ultimately I came across this article through Shera over at Book Whispers. She introduced me to Joel Stein. I know there has been some…okay…LOTS of buzz over his article regarding adults reading YA. I also know that I am far from the first person to say something about it. As much as I hate to admit it, Mr. Stein got me thinking…

Why do I read YA? Why do I LOVE to read YA?
Stein is right. There’s loads of lit out there geared toward adults like me. So why do I find myself gravitating toward a ‘lower reading level?’
Hi. My name is Deena, and I am a voracious reader of young adult novels, despite being thirty…mumble something grumble…years old.
There. I said it. It’s out in the open. Am I ashamed of being way (and I mean waaaayyy) past my formidable teen years and reading tales staring teens? Nope. Not in the least.
This is what has been bouncing around my head like a pinball machine on crack. The easy answer? Because I like it. Love it even.
Definition of pastime: An activity that occupies one’s spare time pleasantly. (ref)
Some synonyms: entertainment, leisure, hobby, relaxation, recreation, distraction, amusement, diversion. (ref)
Yes, I read YA as a pastime, a hobby. I do it because I enjoy it. It makes me happy. I was not aware I should approach my reading material as if I were preparing my thesis.
Do I feel less educated because I read a ‘tween’ book? No. Do I feel like my IQ dropped because, as Stein puts it, KidLit “doesn’t have the depth of language and character as literature written for people who have stopped physically growing?”
Absolutely not.
I have read “big girl” books and enjoyed them, but I love the potency of YA the most. Anyone who writes for a YA audience knows there is immense competition there. Not just because there are oodles of authors (and more new authors every day), but because the teen audience is a hard one to grab. Traditionally, teens don’t have the attention span for a lengthy novel that takes its time getting to the point. You have to open with a kick to the sternum, grab with a right hook, and keep the them reading with as many groin kicks, uppercuts, and elbows to the solar plexus as possible. There’s no time for dilly-dally in YA Lit.
YA, especially the upper teen side, is also full of ‘first time’ experiences. Everything is ‘more‘ from the perspective of a teen because they’ve never been through it. I liken YA reads to baby rattlesnakes. Did I just lose you? Here, let me explain. A baby rattlesnake doesn’t know how much venom to release that first strike so they often give it their all. Teen experiences are much like this.
That first love was all consuming when it began and soul crushing when it ended because their ‘all‘ was given. That first time behind the wheel of a car often had more acceleration than necessary. That first kiss, that first time sneaking out of the house, that first game after making the team or cheer squad, and that first final passed were all so much bigger and powerful because they were a ‘first’ and, quite possibly, an all encompassing and dramatic event.
As adults, we dim down experiences because we’ve ‘been there/ done that.’ I find adult novels to be sort of the same way. The experiences are somewhat dulled down with familiarity. It doesn’t make them less engaging, really, but they don’t have that punch I like. Not like YA.
The characters in YA are not any less complex than adult novels either. I would venture to say they are more complex because they are written in worlds of ‘firsts.’ They might not be stressing over extra marital affairs, or unpaid bills, or an abusive spouse, but they have issues and stresses that are just as powerful in their world. And because there’s no previous experience to base their feelings on, it is that much more powerful to read.
Maybe I am re-living life vicariously through YA novels. Who cares? With the hum-drum of regular life, sometimes we need that moment to relive, or remember, what it was like to take on something new and scary. It gets the adrenaline pumping and reboots the brain. We may even be able to take that ‘jump with both feet’ attitude and apply it to our very grown up lives.
Am I offended by Mr. Stein’s lack of respect for adults who read YA? That if he were to see me with Hunger Games in my lap, he would think less of me? No. Actually, I feel sorry for the man. He has obviously given up on his inner-child. He has cast aside that which allows us to create, to dream, to inspire: an imagination.
Now I may never get engaged in front of Cinderella’s castle, but I will bounce on my toes in line for Space Mountain. I may not be a huge Justin Bieber fan, but I will crank up the volume when One Direction comes on the radio. Stein says this behavior is embarrassing. Personally, I think it’s more embarrassing to be so obtuse, narrow-minded, and one dimensional.
Yes, I am an adult. I have a full-time job in the ‘big girl’ world that demands me to be professional and precise. I have a mortgage to pay, a small son to raise, and I have paid off my car. I have a degree and half hour commute. I have read Dan Brown, David Baldacci, Robin Cook, and Danielle Steel. But I fell in love with Jeri Smith-Ready, Becca Fitzpatrick, Cassandra Clare, and Jennifer Armentrout.
I am an adult and I love YA Lit. I love its passion, its power, its vigor and ‘roooaaarrrr…I shall overcome’ sort of essence. If Stein thinks this makes me less of an adult, he is entitled to his opinion. It will not make me second guess my next book purchase. If Mr. Stein sat next to me on my next flight to NYC for the SCBWI Conference, and curled a disgusted lip at the latest Mortal Instruments installment in my hand, I would proudly flip him the bird and tell him to “suck it” in the most adult manner possible.