Give YA genre a chance
- Written by Michael Kateregga
Let’s talk about Young Adult (YA). People love this genre with a passion I can’t quite comprehend.
I am determined to read at least three YA novels this year just to see what all the fuss is about. I have to make a deliberate resolution to consume the genre because YA outright repels me. But I don’t want to dismiss it without giving the genre a fair shake. For all I know, it could make a fan out of me.
But what is YA? The term stands for ‘Young Adult,’ which technically refers to readers 12 to 18 years old. And yes, it features teenage characters fighting to overcome obstacles that typically assault individuals in that age group.
Why did I suggest that YA was difficult to pin down? Because The Catcher in the Rye has a teenage protagonist, but no one in their right mind would ever categorize it as YA.
The J.D. Salinger novel talks to adults more than teenagers. That is where many readers draw the line. They expect YA to speak directly to younger audiences. But that only adds to the confusion.
Most YA readers are older adults (statistics say 55 percent), not teens. Therefore, you can’t attach the YA genre to a particular age group. Although, I have heard people argue that YA is a category, not a genre.
As a child, I read plenty of novels I would have categorized as YA because the characters were teenagers going on adventures. But they were devoid of the sex, graphic violence, and profanity that litters the modern YA novel.
One article in the Smithsonian Magazine called them “junior novels”. They came from a bygone era where teenagers did not really exist because people entered the workforce at ages as young as 10, transitioning from childhood directly into adulthood.
But then, the Great Depression came along and killed all the jobs, forcing adolescents to abandon the workplace for high school, introducing the ‘Young Adult’ demographic to the Western world.
It took publishers a few decades to adapt to this change. Initially, you had adults approaching YA stories through a sanitized lens. The result was the sweet, overly romanticized depictions of teenage life most of you saw in your school libraries in the 1990s and early noughties.
The Smithsonian Magazine highlights The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier as a significant turning point because it lifted the veil and revealed the unhappy truths of life as a young adult.
I typically associate the category with urban fantasy because the biggest YA authors in the world write about vampires, werewolves, and love triangles, even though YA encompasses every genre you can imagine, including historical fiction, thriller and comedy.
But even when it delves into the supernatural, YA puts at its center the arduous lives of teenagers trying to take their place among an adult population whose ideals they oppose or despise.
This is where this genre loses me; teenagers don’t make sense to me and I don’t want to walk in their shoes. First, I would describe my teenage years as ‘icky’. You could not pay me to live through those days again.
Secondly, I can’t say that I was ever truly a teenager. Even as an adolescent, I found the speech, mindsets, and lifestyles of the teenagers around me entirely off-putting.
In fact, I would argue that my physical age has only recently caught up to my mental age, which would explain why I could not stand all the slang my classmates in secondary school frequently threw around.
It also explains why teenage characters in movies, games and books irritate me. Any novel that accurately portrays teenagers is bound to repel me. This tells me that YA is not my cup of tea. But again, I won’t make that judgment until I read some YA.