I never explicitly declared this a YA blog, and yet I don't go near adult books for the most part. Here I thought it might be interesting to explore why that is. I'm going to talk about my other genre preferences (particularly, why I prefer sci-fi and dystopian over contemporary, historical and paranormal romance, in general) in a later post.
1) Why YA is so Great
YA, or Young Adult, isn't so much a genre as a huge category that contains buckets of other genres like the ones I'm going to discuss below (from the historical-adventure Temeraire series by Naomi Novik to sugary contemporary like Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell). That's why I put this up here, because it kind of encompasses everything else I like.
There are plenty of reasons why YA is popular, but a few stand out for me.
I've always found YA more honest, and I'm not exactly sure why. Adults like to say that teenagers are naive, and maybe we are in some things. While this doesn't make us unintelligent, we do often lack life experience (remember, this isn't true for everyone: some people face more hardship in childhood than some adults will in their entire lives). But that naivete gives us a more optimistic outlook on the world, I think, and that's a nice thing to have in a narrator. Obviously teenagers are sarcastic and often quite cynical, but we do have a heart behind all that, I think, a sense of childlike wonder that's not entirely gone. The cynicism just shows through more often because the sting of life's disappointments is still fresh. We haven't had time to develop a thick skin yet.
Teenagers seem to get more emotionally invested in books. This is awfully stereotypical, but I've found that this is true of teenage girls especially - you just have to look at a few fandoms to see that. So the sense of community and camaraderie both between the reader and the author and between the reader and other readers of that book/series is wonderful and really heart-felt. I'm sure it's nice for the author too, to have someone really connect emotionally with your book. Letters written to YA authors are not uncommon. I think that’s lovely.
YA has a reputation for not being as good as adult/mainstream fiction, for being less respectable – and I kind of love that, because it means it doesn’t have to be highbrow, it can be about the experience without worrying about being literary. That’s not to say YA books can’t be written exquisitely, many are (Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a great example). But it’s more about the emotional connection in my view. That’s why there are – and need to be – so many memorable characters in YA; they carry the story.
I’m sure there are some literary YA novels (The Weight of Water probably counts), but the ones I love are all about character, as mentioned above, and plot. Because there are so many YA books constantly being published, plots have to be enjoyable again and again.
Note that I didn’t say unique. I’m not going to lie. Again because of the YA boom, writers make copies of popular books in the genre (see: almost every YA Paranormal Romance ever post-Twilight), and oh boy do they sell. But that’s because there’s something in the plot or the setup that really strikes a chord with readers, and they’re not too high-and-mighty to come back for more.
Part of what I love about YA books is that they’re universal. Sure, they have lots of genre divisions and you’re unlikely to be a Hunger Games tribute or a witch at Hogwarts or being chased by clones, whatever. But the underlying themes of finding your identity, asking the big questions, figuring out who you want in your life and who you need to grow away from – coming of age issues – they’re where YA really shines. Everyone has felt these at some point, which is partly why there are many adult YA readers, but teenagers and young adults are experiencing them right now, and the immediacy and urgency mirrors our lives, where we feel like everything is important because it’s new.
YA books are particularly prone to becoming series (and yes, trilogies), meaning readers can grow up with them, and mature as the protagonists do. A stellar example of this is the Harry Potter series. I was just a bit too young for these (I’d finished most of the books by the time I was six, so while I understood the words I didn’t really get the emotional impact first time round), but I know for many people it was an integral part of their adolescence. It was a crucial part of my childhood, and I value it dearly, but the people who went through adolescence with it probably got the most from it.
Fortunately, I was the right age for the Skulduggery Pleasant series. I started reading them when I was, what, ten or eleven? The final book came out this year, when I’m in my late teens. The protagonist, Valkyrie, aged at a similar rate, so our underpinning experiences remained the same even as she learned magic and fought crime. (I still haven’t read Book #9, so please no spoilers).
I’m sure there are plenty more reasons, but those are the ones that jump out at me.
2) Why I Don’t Like Adult/Mainstream Fiction
Let’s just get this straight first: I do like some adult fiction. I adore a lot of Jodi Picoult’s books – in fact, when I was eleven I asked for them to be added to the school diary. My request was denied, because apparently they weren’t suitable for kids. Little Children by Tom Perrotta was alright, I liked The Rainbow Virus by Dennis Meredith, Incidentally, I love a lot of non-fiction (mainly popular science like Wonders of the Universe by Prof. Brian Cox, with a dash of comedy-politics like Stupid White Men by Michael Moore) which I’m pretty sure is always adult. So it’s not that I’m incapable of reading Adult fiction, or that it’s too complex. I just don’t find it as engaging.
My younger sister reads a lot of adult thrillers, but when I tried getting into them I didn’t really enjoy them (though I always welcome book suggestions). The main problem I found with thrillers particularly was characterization. We’re just not brought as closely into the protagonist’s head. There are so many world-weary cops that I’m sick of them and I’ve barely even read the genre, and yet I don’t mind YA heroines sharing too many of the same traits (badass, feisty, sarcastic, strongTM) because I bond with them. I’m just not willing to spend hundreds of pages with someone I don’t care about, and the characters are less raw in Adult books.
My lack of experience with Adult books really show through here, doesn't it? But if they want me to read them, they'd better start (a) being more engaging (b) marketing them a lot better. YA books are marketed incredibly well, especially with authors on Twitter who know their demographic. Mainstream fiction needs to catch on if it wants those sweet, sweet young adult dollars.