I interact and follow a lot of book blogs that review solely young adult, I review a lot of young adult books as well. First: Who should read young adult books? Anyone can read young adult books. To get that out of the way first. Well, probably not six year olds, but you get it. I think no one should be ashamed of it. I still got problems with young adult literature though.
My experience as a kid, growing up as a major reader
I’m 20 years old, for reference. When I was 10 and very tired of children’s (now considered middle grade) books, young adult books weren’t a thing in my country – Norway – or in the big library I spent a lot of time in.
I started reading adult books from 10 years old. I loved crime stories and started reading reviews trying to steer away from the novels with graphic sex. I’ve since started reading more young adult literature, apparent from this blog, but for a long time I could find literature on the adult shelves that spoke to my interests and learned me a lot about the world that I wouldn’t otherwise, not through young adult fiction. Not that it might not exist in the young adult universe, somwhere, but that it’s not popular or promoted, and teens won’t have the same access to it. Reading outside of the young adult genre for a kid makes it so their interest aren’t limited to what’s available.
Literature increase empathy, because you see the world through different eyes and read about experiences you wouldn’t have otherwise. Of course, young adult novels does this as well, but the books published is stagnant sometimes, too caught up in what’s popular. What young adult novels are published are very trend-based. Remember the utopia craze? Divergent, Matched by Ally Condie, Hunger Games, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. Right now there’s so many books in the style of “A court of thorns and roses”. They might teach you something, but the protagonist voice in all those books and most young adult novels I still read has this same tone. I think diverse voices and representation is important and can better this and that the focus on diversity in the young adult genre is right now growing a lot, which is great. But it doesn’t change the fact that many authors want a protagonist the young adult reader can relate to, because it’s easier to draw them in and the best way to make it so is a “Mary Sue” character or just one that is the average teen of the group their trying to get to, without too much destinction. (See Darren Shan mentioned below for exceptions).
The adult fiction to avoid at all cost
Here’s the books you don’t let your kid read: Game of Thrones. There’s probably more out there, but there’s no other book that I like regret reading that I should’ve been warned against. Like I wouldn’t let a kid or teen read erotica, that’s what fanfiction written by fellow teens are for. Avoid anything that has sexual violence, because it can be written badly and isn’t something you’d want to expose anyone to through literature for the first time.
Remember Hunger Games? How is YA violence different?
Loved that book, it was very entertaining. It was so hated by parents at the beginning, which is totally understandable, but it really did a few things right. The messages of the first book was through relationships and being cunning, things that could’ve been done in a less sensationalized game of killing kids. Things that probably would’ve been done in a way that made more sense if it was adult book. Still, it introduced teens to the consequences of violence and poverty. Yes, the world-building is simplified with factions, but Katniss sees the poverty she comes from, with people dying and then the riches of the place she gets to. They topple the government, a thing that also would’ve made more sense if they included the “adult” things of actual politics and realistic military strategies. Still, there were propaganda, and Katniss feeling icky about it. About betrayal, and political games and trust. Few young adult books show even that much of moral dilemmas, but it took a lot of dead children to do so and still it’s read by young adults everwhere. I don’t get publishing
sometimes. Also, the message seems to get lost in all the sensationalized violence, the movies really fucked up that way.
Fairytales has done it for hundreds of years
I feel like many won’t agree with me, at this point. So let me give you a very much researched topic that I think compares very well – fairytales. Fairytales and folklore has been told to children, introducing them to the more gruesome details of life like death and betrayal through a more magical or fantastical world, making it interesting and not so much of a huge lecture of how to be careful. There’s a lot more reputable scholars out there than this one blog is going to put together today, so I’ll just give some experience –
As a norwegian and kid fascinated with literature, I grew up on the original Grimm’s fairytales. Along with the americanized Disney, kind of. In the Hansel and Gretel I was read as a kid, the kids were left in the forest to die/fend for themselves because their parents don’t know what else to do during a famine. Cinderella’s step sisters are ordered by the evil stepmother to cut her heel, the other one her toes, to fit into the glass shoes, the blood dripping and exposing them as liars. Little Red Riding Hood’s grandma is cut out from the wolf’s stomach, in a really grotesque way. The violence isn’t just removed in other versions, the needs of the characters and the outcome is completely changed! The cruel actions of some humans aren’t showcased. The risks are smaller. The courage less great because of it. There’s a big difference between Cinderella just not getting the prince, and continuing having to work like a slave in an abusive household.
Most young adult novels Disney-fy the content in the same way, and it just removes a lot of the moral components along with the risks.
Who decides what is YA?
I would like to know the answer to that question if someone has it. The books aimed at younger readers that I loved as a kid was like books by Darren Shan and I still remember being grossed out and fascinated by his demon series (Demonata) where the main character in one of the first scene of the first book gets back at his sister by laying the intestines of a rat in the hair towel of his older sister while she’s in the shower. It was just so different from anything that I would ever do and the thought process behind the character was fascinating, it was one of the first time I was looking into a psychology that weren’t anywhere near me. This is an example of a technically young adult book that might be too much for your average kid, but it’s really good horror. IT’S MUCH LESS VIOLENT THAN HUNGER GAMES, BUT MORE FUCKED UP? Between this type of book and Hunger Games I feel the young adult genre never quite figured out it’s limits. This book isn’t promoted openly as young adult any longer, but my library still has it shelved at so and it certainly was considered it when published in 2013. 300 Goodreads users agree.
I love fairytales so so much. What I hope people are getting from this post is that 1) keep kids and young adults away from books with sexual violence 2) let young adults choose what they want to read 3) as a teen it was personally very boring to read what adults thought I should care about (romance and ponies) and I would be a worse (well, less empathic) person if I did, a hundred percent. Young adult books are incredibly important for so many reasons, but it’s beneficial to not limit someone to just that age group because it’s somehow “safer”, especially when that’s very debatable.
I’m not a parent. I completely understand that one might want to shield your kids and teens from certain things. But this post is brought to you by me realizing several of my fellow 20 year olds have never had a person close to them die, or dealt with loss. Which is great for them, but how are they going to learn how to grieve if the first person that dies is the one they care about the most? There’s certain things I believe on a fundamental level children has a right to know about, to not be kept from them to protect an “innocence”, because as a parent that’s not protecting them in the long run or if powers outside of anyone’s control create tragedies. I don’t think that needs to just come from literature, but it’s a great way for the teens to familiarize themselves with difficult themes on their own. Which is lost when you show violence without the consequences or any action without the moral component!