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We Need to Keep Talking About YA Books

There’s no doubt that books still have an instrumental role in our society. Whether electronic or physical, political or personal, books continue to lend themselves to crucial conversations about who we may be, what we value, and what is truly happening in the world around us. They allow us to form bonds.

But in spite of this, publications dedicated to talking about books, especially young adult books, are disappearing. Within the past month, staff members for both the books section of Bustle and the Barnes & Noble Teen blog have been laid off, which has created uncertainty about whether these necessary discussions will continue.

For years, books have served as a way for young readers to not only find their escape but also as a way to comprehend the world around them. Just this week, American gynecologist Jennifer Gunter wrote in The New York Times that Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret helped her understand reproductive health as a teen in a way that the people around her could not.

The increasing emphasis in recent years on representation in literature occurred so that more children and teens could read stories that they relate to in a way that they may not relate to others. And that’s fiction alone—nonfiction books break down complex narratives into digestible stories that can appeal to even more reluctant readers. While some may deride young adult literature for being “simplistic,” this is arguably where the genre’s merit lies—specifically, in how it comments on cultural phenomena in a way that is accessible to its main audience.

And of course, it’s not so simplistic after all—in 2008, the American Library Association commented on how the young adult genre has evolved since the 1960s, going from “little more than problem novels and romances” to “literature that welcomes artistic innovation, experimentation, and risk-taking.” On top of this, they argue that young adult literature is crucial to healthy youth development, which is corroborated by Gunter’s experiences as well as the experiences of readers everywhere. Talking about books means talking about these experiences.

Talking about young adult books means talking about teens and the positive and negative effects of what they consume. It means recognizing them as human beings with complex interests and dreams. Talking about young adult books also means recognizing when it’s not appropriate to talk about young adult books. While adults may enjoy reading young adult literature, most young readers actually prefer to “read up”, and regardless of the complexity of some young adult books, many aren’t transposable to an academic setting whether it’s grade school or higher education.

However, young adult literature doesn’t have to be included in every discussion for it to maintain its value. The genre is primarily meant to tell stories about, and speak to, its target audience. It may appeal to others, but this is not the main goal. Young adult authors can tell complicated, heartwrenching stories just as easily as they can tell a coming-of-age story, and they will always be meant for young readers.

Young adult literature may not necessarily be canonized, but it doesn’t need to be; it matters more that it applies at that moment to that generation of readers. For the same reason, classics shouldn’t be upheld as the paragons of the human experience, but rather recognized for their literary content and the role they served in the time of their creation. When we move past reductive criticism of certain genres because of the audiences they serve, it will allow us to have more nuanced discussions, both on the part of proponents and detractors. It will allow us to focus on championing new voices and works even when they differ from the norm.

Most importantly, it will allow us to keep telling more stories because we will know that they are valued.

Featured image via LubosHouska on Pixabay

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Nadia Bey
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Nadia is a student journalist from North Carolina and the current Books Editor for Affinity. In addition to reading, she is interested in science, pop culture and policy.

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