Those of you who are regular readers will remember last week’s Discussion post: 8 problems with YA novels. Given the post sounded very angry, I was trying to think of a slightly happier post for this week, when I had a thought… I spent so long writing about things I dislike about Young Adult novels last week, that I probably made it hard for people to understand why I still read the genre.
In short: welcome to the opposite of last week’s post, in which I’ll be talking about some of the things that are good about YA.
1. Fictional families that got it right
In last week’s post, I had a rant about unrealistic portrayals of fictional families in YA, who are all either way too perfect, or way too dysfunctional. So, since this week’s post is a much less angry one, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about a couple of YA families I’d actually like to join! And for me, I can think of no better examples than Starr’s family from The Hate U Give, or the Weasleys from Harry Potter. These are fictional families where the balance is actually right because, sure, they have their dysfunctional moments, and they don’t always get along, but they ultimately love each other, just like so many real families. Plus, they prove the point I’ve always tried to make: just because a fictional family is ‘normal’, does mean it has to be boring!
Here’s to the YA books that are based on a unique, inventive idea, that isn’t either just another dystopian, or strangely similar to a book that was released last year! Personally, my favourite examples of original YA would have to be the general world-building in the Harry Potter series, from huge details like Hogwarts itself to tiny details like individual spells, and the political climate depicted in the Hunger Games series, where a sadistic government forces its people to sacrifice their children. There’s just something wonderful about being able to read a book without that sense of boredom that comes with a weak premise, or that dreaded sense of déjà vu!
3. Badass female characters
In case I haven’t spelled it out enough times: I’m a feminist! And as I said in last week’s post, I’m often infuriated by the way many YA books seem to have weak female leads.
But, I don’t want you to totally despair just yet because, just as a weak main character can ruin a novel, a strong main character can make a novel twice as good. And although such characters don’t come along every day, a few have trickled through into the YA genre.
Like Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, who made it cool to love books, and Luna, who never gave up on being herself, even when others mocked her beliefs. Like Starr from The Hate U Give, who is determined to make her best friend’s murder count, staying strong in an incredibly difficult situation. Like pretty much every character from The Nowhere Girls, when they work together to stand up to the sexist culture at their school.
In short: we can still nurse some hope for the future of feminist literature!
4. Names you can actually read
As I said in last week’s post, I do understand where the trend for ridiculous names in YA novels came from: a few popular books featured strange names, and the next thing we knew, a weird name was a must for any memorable main character.
However, a few, brave authors have managed to resist the urge to join this particular bandwagon, and I salute them. I think my favourite has to be The Perks of Being a Wallflower– that little-known, insignificant book that must have only sold ABOUT A TRILLION COPIES- that managed to succeed in spite of names as normal, and easy to read as… Charlie, Sam and Patrick. Really, its success is beyond me. It’s a mystery, almost like… PEOPLE LIKE IT WHEN THEY CAN ACTUALLY PRONOUNCE THE MAIN CHARACTER’S NAME. Mad.
5. Relatable characters for teenagers
A lot has always been made of ‘teen angst’, and the general confusion we all feel as we grow up and figure out who we want to be, yet few authors seem to manage to actually convey how this feels. However, there are exceptions, in the form of rare, beautiful books, that explore the essence of being a teen.
…Which brings me back to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a book that single-handedly discusses the issues faced by many teens. From Charlie’s struggle with his mental health, to Sam’s search for a healthy sexual relationship, to Mary Elizabeth’s desire to rebel against her parents, to Brad’s struggle with his sexuality, if you can think of an issue that affects teens, this book probably covers it. As an added bonus, the characters are both likeable and realistic, and really will resonate with real teens.
6. Books that discuss issues that actually matter to teens
One incredibly irritating, but prevailing, stereotype about teens is that we have an extremely limited knowledge of politics, world affairs and, indeed, life in general. Given we live in a world of online activism, where the latest feminist, or animal rights campaign is just a click away, I firmly believe many young people are interested in lots of amazing causes.
And given books are designed to educate, what better way to challenge social injustice than with a book?
I know what you’re probably thinking now, too: inspirational books like To Kill a Mockingbird and Catch-22 exist, but are young people really reading them? But the thing is, people forget that there are also some amazing YA books that educate their readers on important topics. Amongst the YA books I’ve read or reread in the past year alone, I know that I could learn about feminism from The Nowhere Girls, racism from The Hate U Give, and mental health issues from The Perks of Being a Wallflower. So, while you might have to work your way through a few questionable dystopian books, and fantasy novels where characters’ names can only feature vowels first, just remember that it really is more than possible to choose to read thought-provoking, beautifully written YA novels. Just like ‘adult’ books, some are good and some are bad, and we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss all YA books as a ‘soft’ option, or see them as catering for a less politically minded audience.
7. Books that shape your childhood
Despite protesting otherwise, I promise that I do indeed have a heart. In fact, it’s sentimental reasons that keep me reading YA, regardless of how frustrating I can sometimes find it.
You see, as a younger reader, I naturally opted to read books aimed at young people. And of those books, the series that stuck with me most was the Harry Potter books, which are still my favourite books today! I genuinely don’t know if I would’ve developed such a love of reading without them, and they really did make my childhood just that little bit better. Every time I pick up a Potter novel, I’m reminded of how wonderful it felt when- aged 7- I discovered JK Rowling’s magical creation for the first time.
Similarly, as I said earlier, I really feel that The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a book that deals with many of the issues faced by teens, and it has thus always struck a chord with me. I remember reading it for the first time, just as I was becoming a teenager myself, and feeling that I had finally found a book that just ‘got’ me, summing up all of my confused emotions, as well as all the teenage experiences I had to look forward to.
And there you have it- sometimes YA really is the best genre for when we’re feeling just a little bit sentimental! I’m sure you’re all familiar with that rush of nostalgia that comes with revisiting a childhood classic or a teenage favourite, and can understand why it draws us back to the genre time and time again.
8. Fictional crushes
Let’s end on a light note… I don’t care if you’re male, female, gay or straight, if you’ve managed to read the Hunger Games series without feeling attracted to Finnick Odair, you’re doing something wrong… Case closed!
….And that concludes this week’s happier post!
Come back next week if you’d like to see what mood I’m in by then!