I read YA. It feels like a huge, embarrassing confession now given recent articles like the latest from Slate, which makes a firm, unyielding argument that adults should NOT read books meant for teens. That they are not for us. That they are somehow lesser—the diet version of real literature, dumbed down for teenage consumption.
Is it me, or does that seem backwards?
Here’s the thing: I started writing YA because it was one of the things I really liked to read. Because it fit the story I wanted to tell. Because it fit my writing voice.
I stayed because YA is an opportunity.
If you want to really make a difference in the world, I’d argue that your best bet is not to write for adults. After a certain point, we’ve got our worldview pretty well locked in. We might even get a little jaded. Things happen, you know? Those big dreams that once seemed so possible…not so much. But if you think about the times when the world really changed, it was because people held on to those big, impossible dreams. When they defied the way things are, dared to take a step into the unknown. When they were inspired to think of things in a new way.
YA is an opportunity to light that spark with an audience who is actively looking for answers. An opportunity to say something about the way things are or should be to people who dare to dream about how to change it. People who are already asking those questions and engaging in that discussion.
Why on earth would we automatically assume that literature is and should be dumbed down if it’s written for teens? If they’re our future, if they’re in the process of figuring out what they want their legacy to be, then it’s in our best interest to make sure they have the BEST literature available. Good YA is about asking the biggest questions, taking the biggest risks. Challenging teens. Asking them point blank what they hold important, where their moral compass points. Sure, not all YA holds itself to that standard just like not all adult lit is earth-shatteringly good. But dismissing the entire genre of YA as lesser and unsophisticated because it’s written from the POV of a teen? Completely misses the point. If you don’t get it, that’s fine. That’s your prerogative. But don’t judge other adults because they’re not too jaded to say that we could learn something from young people. Because they’re willing to dare to dream. Because they’re willing to question what they hold true, regardless of how old they are.
Ultimately, that’s what YA is all about. It’s a search for answers. And I say that’s a good thing at any age.