Beyond Sparkly, Shirtless Men: Redeeming the Young Adult Genre
Let’s be frank: the young adult (YA) genre has recently suffered many a stigma. When people hear that a book falls into this category, they often groan, roll their eyes, and repudiate reading it. For YA fiction is now associated with plots that include needless love triangles, hormone-driven high schoolers who’d be too young to actually have romantic relationships, and, of course, sparkly supermen who lack clothing.
Indeed, when one has gumption enough to stroll through the YA section in the bookstores, one will most likely see some book covers depicting lusty teenagers, and–yes–shirtless males. But among these books still exist, admittedly, a few gems–some of which have been around for a while.
The genre was born in the Victorian era, beginning with Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist and Lewis Carroll’s Alice. Then came J. D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, Sylvia Plath’s Esther, and Judy Blume’s Margaret. Books started discussing more internal, cognitive issues than solely worldly (or otherworldly) adventures. Thus, from its advent, the genre was not to be taken as a mere triviality.
Profundity can even be found in the most recent of books. John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, which came out this past winter, may at first seem like another YA romance, bearing a baby blue cover and bubbly words. However, beyond this is a tale of love not only between adolescents, but also between a girl and her parents, a girl and her favorite author, and a boy and life itself.
John Green’s books have touched millions in several languages, because they might just deserve to. Instead of being full of hormones, they are full of heart. If that isn’t convincing, they also employ words like “hamartia” (which this computer program won’t even acknowledge as a real word–but it is) and venn diagrams and mathematical theorems explaining human relationships.
Even ubiquitously beloved novels are a part of the berated YA genre. Harry Potter, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Lord of the Flies feature young adult heroes who experience life and death in all its levity, tragedy, gravity.
There are also books less often discussed that are filled with winsome poetry, beautiful language, noteworthy characters, and true emotions. Sarah Ockler’s Fixing Delilah, Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle Trilogy, and Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere explore the darker recesses of both teenagers and adults, and feature imperfect characters out for redemption, forgiveness, and self-discovery. These themes are far from fluff.
Thus, it is troubling to see that, when a book with an adolescent protagonist becomes successful, it is deemed literature. When it is not lucky enough to garner the hype, attention, or cult following that, say The Hunger Games or Harry Potter have, it is thrown into the vilified cesspool of just young adult.
It may be unfair to do so because 1. the young adult genre should not be generalized as being less intelligent, 2. YA writers, who write–an act which should never be anything but freeing–should not suffer the quick stereotypes placed upon them, and 3. those who read young adult literature should not be viewed as less capable of experiencing their individual versions of the world and life, however long their experience has been.
This is not to say that some books that look like gems–because many do actually sparkle, chests and all–aren’t in fact stones. But the next time you pass by the YA section in Barnes & Noble, know that not all of the books are fruity and frivolous. Who knows? The story beyond the chiseled chest might prove to be gutsy and worth exploring.
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