Why I Read YA

Since I can tell that it’s going to be a few days before I finish a book to review, I thought I’d try my hand at a more general post like this one.

Up until I was 12 or 13, I read almost exclusively fantasy. Harry Potter was the catalyst of course; I read the first three in 3rd and 4th grade, and then reread them constantly until Goblet of Fire released. I recall tying for the win in a Harry Potter trivia game in class against my friend Kelly, who recommended them to me. We were so evenly matched in our obsession that our teacher finally had to give up trying to narrow us down to one winner. I loved reading before Harry Potter, but after Harry Potter, kids and YA fantasy was all I read for a long while. I remember devouring the Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, and Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series

Harry Potter and Young Wizards continued to release books as I grew up, and I kept reading everything I could find, at school and the kids section of the bookstore. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series became a new favorite fantasy series, but I also read Lurlene McDaniel’s books about cancer, Ann Rinaldi’s about historical women, as well as whatever classic or adult novels I was assigned to read for school.

Some of the first adult novels I read for fun were astronomically popular books like The Da Vinci Code and My Sister’s Keeper. The Da Vinci Code, of course, is just fluffy, controversial fun for all ages. My Sister’s Keeper, I think was interesting to me because it had so many qualities of a young adult novel. Anna, its main character, is  finding a voice, solidifying her morals, and taking a stand against her parents, an intriguing plot point for any teen.

But then I continued to pick up Jodi Picoult’s books where I could find them and started to run into trouble. Harvesting the Heart is about a faltering marriage as the main character, Paige, works to adjust to motherhood. Change of Heart is about a mother struggling to find forgiveness and save her child. Nineteen Minutes is about two sets of parents trying to make sense of the tragic event that has befallen their children. As a 19, 20 year old young woman I was technically an adult, but I couldn’t relate to the trials of parenthood. I found adult novels about women to be focused almost exclusively on motherhood or marriage, something I had no experience with (nothing against Jodi Picoult, though, most of the above books are not bad reads!), so I turned back to YA where the leads were younger than me, but, especially in YA fantasy, faced the same struggles for independence and strength and identity crises as I did.

I find it interesting that there’s such a big gap in fiction in that so few characters are in their early 20’s. There are a few books that do feature true young adults of course, The Promise by Chaim Potok comes to mind, as does All Quiet on the Western Front. The only one I can think of with a modern, female protagonist, however, is Fifty Shades of Grey, which is not much to go on, in my opinion. 

So I still read YA because I can relate to teenage protagonists in a way I cannot relate to married-with-kids adult protagonists. Teens in fantasy or dystopia novels are often operating with a high level of independence from their parents, much like any college age adult is. Clary in The Mortal Instruments series is an excellent example of this phenomenon. She’s forced into total independence when her mother is kidnapped and her father figure abandons her, in the process discovering her power and forging her own path to the future. She’s 16, but any reader her age on up to 10 years or more older can relate to that cold confrontation with the “Real World”.

I’ll keep reading YA until I can’t relate to that coming of age story arc anymore, but I get the feeling it will be a very long time before I don’t.

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