Young Adult as a writing genre is still a fairly new idea in the literary world. One of the first major novels considered “YA” was most likely S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, mainly because teenagers were the targeted audience, as well as what the story was about. Since then, YA has grown into probably one of the most popular and well-known forms of literature, with some of the latest major works and movie adaptations stemming from the genre.
But despite it’s popularity, it’s come with its challenges. There’s the argument about whether or not YA constitutes any form of high-end literature. Major criticisms involve the overuse of tropes, teenagers being targeted as the audience while the characters don’t do normal teenager things. And (worst of all in my opinion), the use of romance and the ways it’s often the center of a plot.
Yet despite all those challenges, YA has expanded beyond it’s original intended audience. It’s not uncommon for younger children to read YA, and the latest “New Adult” craze is on the rise. When did reading for teenagers become more than reading for teenagers? Here are a few reasons speculating why Young Adult Lit has expanded beyond teens.
They’re Popular, but Also More than That
Popularity can be a strange thing in the literary world. For YA in particular, it seems that each next Next Big Book stems from a relatively new trend, with similar books following along in its wake and capitalizing on what readers are currently interested in. Sometimes it feels like one minute it’s all about the Twilight vampire craze of the 2000s then the next it’s reinvented fairy tales like the Marissa Mayer’s The Lunar Chronicles. It can be hard to keep up. Even the recent rise of book discourse on social media like with Booktok and Bookstagram gives us a clue as to what teenagers (and others) are currently reading. If it’s true that YA novels that are popular and only popular because of these trends, then as soon as those trends die, the meaning of the work dies with it.
And yet there’s still an enduring popularity with certain works. They’ve evolved, becoming sources of critical analyses. YA may tell us a lot about what’s popular and give us insight into trends in publishing, but readers still recognize a good book when they see it. Adults enjoy these books because they can go beyond their popularity and tired tropes, giving way to something that can enjoyed again and again down the road. People want to study what the work says. They examine the value in them (after all, that’s what we book nerds are taught to do, and it’s kind of ingrained in us at this point). Basically, YA novels have a chance to surprise us with a good story, setting, and characters just like an any form. It’s the same as when you hear about adults rereading books from their childhood, or middle grade books for a class they may be teaching. If anything, YA proves it can stand on it’s own two feet.
They’ve Changed How We Think about Writing
Besides having a strong influence on the overall publishing market and transforming the literary landscape, YA has put things into perspective a bit, giving us a glimpse into the literary. With trends coming and going so fast in YA, it’s hard not to see how the publishing industry constantly looks for what’s popular and how writers have since tapped into what seems the most marketable at the time. It’s altered our own perceptions of the publishing process as we look to publish our own works. But it also allows us to reexamine what we’re doing in our own writing. We recognize the trends and tropes common in the genre, and now we know what to criticize, subvert, and avoid.
The noticing of specific tropes gives writers a chance to subvert them. We’ve learned YA’s characteristics, now, even if it isn’t the genre we want to write, we begin looking at how we can subvert common tropes in our own writing. It’s the same as studying other genres for their literary merit or examining the strengths and weaknesses of a book when you go to edit it. This type of analysis is something anyone can do really. After all, don’t you remember being a kid and thinking “I can do better than that” and writing for yourself? (Pretty sure I have at one point). Now that literary trends and tropes has been made so plain, we now know what to expect, and it gives us inspiration to write for ourselves.
They Can Surprise Anyone
My aunt said this to me once when she was reading a YA historical fiction book set in World War I. She sometimes connected more to the characters and settings in a book intended for teens rather than adults, and I have to admit I do too. Like any genre, YA has the ability to surprise us. We might think we don’t like something, but then we pick up a book that gives us a good story. It can happen with any genre, and if any book resonates with someone, it doesn’t matter if that person wasn’t the “intended” audience.
YA hasn’t exactly been the most respected of literary genres, but it’s provided a whole new method for looking at writing and publishing. We’ve not only learned so much more about how we’re influenced by other stories, but also we’ve found plenty to talk about when it comes to what makes a good story. As we read more, we find more surprises, something anyone at any age should be able to enjoy.
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