Why Y.A.?

July 31, 2011 § 4 Comments

I’m puzzled about this runaway train called YA (Young Adult) fiction.

I’m not saying it’s good or bad, but I have been wondering why – why all of a sudden has it become the hotest category in fiction today?

So, let’s puzzle this out. Am I wrong in thinking Y.A. is primarily directed at teen-age girls? Does this focus on those years mean that this is the most important time in their lives? Is our culture saying, once you become an adult – no longer Y.A., but simply A – it’s all over? You’re now on the downside of life?

Even the term “Young Adult” is suspect because to me that would mean 20 to 25. Tell me Y.A. authors, are you writing for teenagers (13-19) or young adults (20-25) or both? Can it be both? Honestly?!

In our culture, as we all know, youth is prized to the point where many adults (past 25) spend hours and mucho dollars trying to look younger. Advertisers die to reach that audience. Communications vehicles are invented almost daily to target them and then killed the next day when they don’t succeed. (Too many magazine titles to list.)

So is Y.A. fiction about feeding into this mania or is it about helping teens who want to be treated like adults as soon as they grow pubic hair? Does it add to the pressure young people feel to hurry up and become an adult (i.e.: drink, smoke & have sex) or does it help them avoid the pressure?

If you write or read Y.A., I’d love to hear your opinion. Write or Wrong?

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§ 4 Responses to Why Y.A.?

  • Crystal says:

    First of all YA is not simply for “teenage girls” (not that it’s bad if it were) and is mainly for teens, though I still read YA and I’m 20 (it’s kinda like Seventeen magazine where people who are 20-21 still read it even though they aren’t technically teens anymore). YA has nothing to do with adults trying to obsessively reclaim their youth since the genre isn’t meant for them and majority of the readers are teens themselves. The reason YA is blowing up is because for the longest time there was very little for people who where neither children or adults with families and careers to read, It wasn’t until the 70s that the genre began to take off. Ever since the late 90s the genre has really tried to speak to what teens are ACTUALLY (sorry for the caps. I’m not yelling I just can’t bold/underline on this thing) doing and going through instead of presenting a sanitized version of their reality. I think of the novel “Speak” or “Looking For Alaska” as examples. The writing is getting better and the characters are getting more and more interesting. Some of the best books I’ve read PERIOD are YA and are winning multiple awards. Harry Potter really sparked people of my generation to read more so that by the time we were teens we really wanted to read good literature about our experiences and current YA is doing that so it’s selling well. Now that publishers have seen this they are cashing in themselves and more YA lit. (especially stuff about similar topics that the best seller’s cover) is being made/published.

    • 37editor says:

      Crystal. Thank you for the feedback. Note that you’re not disagreeing with me. YA is aimed primarily at teen-age girls. That doesn’t mean solely or entirely, it means primarily. Also, I didn’t say YA was adults trying to reclaim their youth. I said youth is prized so highly in our culture that some people act in self-destructive ways to try to stay young. My main concern is the message YA sends to young girls and boys. Is it constructive or exploitative? Does it help them become self-actuating adults or self-pitying adults? Keep in mind when my generation was in its teen years, some of us read books targeted to adults, such as Cry the Beloved Country and Flowers for Algernon and To Kill a Mockingbird, etc. — a significantly different type of literature.

      • Crystal says:

        I don’t feel that YA is primarily targeted at young-girls as someone who has been reading YA for a long time and is close to the age of most YA readers. There are too many books aimed at both boys and girls equally or at boys solely for that to seem true to me personally. I really don’t feel that YA fiction today is sending any horrible messages at all. I think it is being as true to teenage life as possible without trying to sanitize the aspects that adults want to pretend aren’t there (i.e. sex, drugs, depression, etc.). The books I’ve read are all about overcoming adversity, doing the right thing, becoming a better person, gaining confidence, and dealing with consequences of actions. I see nothing about self-pity in even the most vapid YA I’ve read, let alone the good stuff. I really don’t see them as exploitative since they concern real issues that teens struggle with and how to deal with them. I don’t feel like literature always has to have a message. I feel it should mainly show people the human condition and through that they can learn their own lessons. That’s what great literature should be doing. It’s up to parents, not books, to help their teens and young adults grow into self-actuating adults.

  • Jess Kahn says:

    It’s an interesting question. What’s interesting is that even some of the characters in the books that are considered classics (Huck Finn, Holden Caufield, etc) are under 20, right? So the difference between YA and Adult Fiction that features teenage and young adult characters is what? There was always YA (Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry; Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series, Judy Blume’s books) but you’re right that it’s super hot now. At least the Harry Potter and Twilight series featured neither sex or drugs – though violence was a constant theme in both….

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