So often I’m sitting at my daughter’s gymnastics class with my latest YA —complete with cheeseball cover (sweet fancy Moses, why are the covers so bad? WHY?)—in hand and I have the urge to hide my book from the prying eyes of those around me. Or I’ll be having a conversation with someone who thinks they’re all Snootypants McGrownup and I feel sort of self-conscious for getting my books from the Teen section at the library. It’s not so much that I think YA is bad—quite the contrary. I know it’s epic—but I hate getting The Look. You know, the look which basically says that:
1) I’m an idiot (which may or may not be true, but has nada to do with my choice in reading materials)
2) I’m in midlife crisis mode (which deeply offends me because really? I’m not that old am I?).
Sometimes I just don’t want to deal with the uptight ladies who either don’t read or who are gripping their latest Oprah Book Pick as if by reading that they are somehow channeling the Great One’s awesomeness. That’s not to put down Oprah’s picks—I’ve read quite a few of them—or to denigrate adult fiction in any way. In fact, I think there’s a plethora of great books in that category. It seems that every day there’s a burgeoning fiction writer so gifted I’m tempted to dive into their stories again and again. So really. I read adult books. I even like them sometimes.
Too often though, I find myself faced with books about women who are dissatisfied with marriage and family, men who are cheater pants or people whose misery I can’t relate to. As I often say to my gal pals, if I wanted to listen to women complain about their husbands and kids, I’d join a Bunco group like all the other moms (sidenote: Bunco kinda rocks. Crabby housewives, not so much). Still, what I love about YA has less to do with what is lacking in adult lit and more to do with the merits of the genre as a whole.
YA fiction is full of life. The authors have tapped into the magic of youth, not only in fantasy pieces like the mother of all book series, Harry Potter, but also in stories about every day life. And since I have a pretty short attention span, I appreciate that young adult books today are generally fast-paced, emotionally intense and brimming with characters who pack a punch. The good characters, the ones I want to read about, are the people who make mistakes, who don’t always do the right thing and who make every decision—even the ones that aren’t a big deal in the long run—feel like it’s of immense proportion. YA shows the heights of the freedom of youth and depths of self-destructive behavior. It captures first love and the force with which it pounds our hearts. Perhaps even more important, it showcases the relationships that have what I believe to be the greatest impact on us in our younger years, our best friends. These stories, when truthfully told and well crafted, never fail to move me as though I’m living and breathing those same moments with the characters (and thank the Lord I’m not. Been there. Done that. Have the embarrassing pics to prove it).
So why do I read YA? Not because other genres aren’t good enough, but purely because it’s good. Because it’s fun. Because it’s entertaining and swoonworthy and all that good stuff. What better reason could there be?