the growth spurt of Young Adult literature

the final stretch of Library School approaches and with only 3 courses to go, it seemed reasonable to explore an area that i haven’t had exposure to in years, but is quickly becoming one of the hottest areas of focus in Librarianship: Young Adult Literature. the graduate program i’m enrolled in offers a summer intensive course on YA fiction, and considering i haven’t touched a YA book since middle school it sounded like a fun reprieve from the required courses in coding, preservation, etc. truthfully, i never read too many Young Adult books. i was reading Heinlein, Stephen King, and other authors that probably blew the attention span of the average 12-year-old out of the water.

Young Adult (YA) literature is a term used to describe fictional books geared towards readers ages 12 through 18. although it’s popularity has increased in the past 15 years, it is actually not a new phenomenon; YA books have been circulating since the 19th Century in the forms of such classics as Oliver Twist and Alice In Wonderland. YA novels evolved in the 20th Century as teens gobbled up books by Madeline L’Engle (A Wrinkle In Time), Lloyd Alexander (The Chronicles Of Prydain, which inspired the epic Disney disaster of 1985 known as The Black Cauldron), and in recent years J.K. Rowling (the Harry Potter series). as with all types of fiction, YA is not exempt from misconceptions and criticisms…including the one about vampires that sparkle (for the record, that series is not included in the syllabus). they don’t…just ask Kiefer Sutherland.

a recent posting on the Book Riot website attempts to clear up some wrong assumptions often associated with YA literature.

first, YA fiction is a category as opposed to a genre. if you’ve ever read a YA book, then you know not all of them fit neatly into the same box. there are stories that deal with real-life issues such as divorce, death, and sex but there are also the ever-popular yarns featuring vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. other trendy publications within YA reading are graphic novels and manga (Japanese animation). in addition, just because a book has the Young Adult label on it does it mean that adults are too old to be reading it? surprisingly, over half the sales of YA books have been to the 21 to 35 (and sometimes older) demographic.

 

in conjunction, just because a novel is written from the point of view of a teenager it doesn’t automatically make it a YA book. one of the most famous teen protagonists (or antagonists, depending on how the reader discerns him) is Alexander DeLarge, the focal character in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. but Alex is not the average 15-year-old, and Burgess’ ultra-controversial book was clearly intended for an adult audience even though it attracted a following among teens many years later in part to its Oscar-nominated film adaptation. both the book and the film are crucial contributions to modern popular culture. the only downside to Kubrick’s film is that it doesn’t include the famous “missing” chapter, which was not added to any US publications of A Clockwork Orange until 1986 (Anthony Burgess died in 1993).

one of the biggest mistakes people make when they hear the phrase “YA fiction” is that it’s predominantly aimed at females. while this may be true of some teen novels, there are a lot of male authors and characters throughout the category, especially in the sci-fi and horror-laden stories. in addition, juvenile fiction is opening up its doors to a more diverse audience by featuring an array of characters from different faiths, ethnicity, sexual orientations, and body types.

the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” is one that certainly applies to the world of Young Adult fiction. sparkly vampires aside, it is actually a lot more intelligent than it appears to be and it has not only encouraged higher levels of reading in teens but has also attracted the attention of grown-ups who are still young at heart (or just want to read something other than TPS reports).

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