28 October 2014

YA is Here to Save Us

There have been quite a few articles lately about the relative merits of reading young adult (and other children's) literature, not only for their intended audience but also as adults. One recent article, which examined the phenomenon of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series, even had the temerity to refer to Harry Potter "notoriously" being embraced by adult readers, a reference to an earlier article on Slate which basically had the same thesis.

I'm not here to argue about literary merit...though I am unable to resist the temptation to point out that it seems YA is totally fine as long as it's several decades old. When was the last time someone complained about people reading Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird?

I'd rather talk about what YA literature can do for us. And, more particularly, what it did - and continues to do - for me.

I suspect everyone looks back on their teenage years and imagines themselves to be atypical. I certainly feel that way. I was nerdy, overweight, suffering from a pretty righteous bout of major depressive disorder, and so heavily medicated there were times when I was practically a zombie. In all my teenage years I can only remember one instance where I had a hormone-fueled teenage freak-out. One. For the most part my emotions were pretty muted. It meant that I sailed through high school more or less aloof from teenage drama.

I was so spaced I didn't even realize I'd had my first crush until a few years after the fact.

Why does this matter? Because one of the beautiful things about reading is that it can take us not only to places and times we've never been, but also to places and times we've been before - under different circumstances.

Reading YA has let me remember what it was like to be a teenager, but more than that, it's let me vicariously experience so many things that I missed out on myself. Underage drinking. Partying. High school sweethearts.

Not always the healthiest of pursuits, but ones I nonetheless regret never experiencing. Sometimes I feel like I didn't grow up, I just grew old. But YA allows me to engage that part of myself which is still a teenager at heart.

This is about more than just me, though. Studies have shown that reading Harry Potter teaches kids empathy. What could be more important than that?

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this whole argument is the assumption people make that their own aesthetics are more important than others. Not just that adult aesthetics are better than kids', but that adults reading "important" literature have better taste than those reading YA.

What complete and utter bullshit.

Reading is a personal activity and no one, NO ONE, has the right to tell me or anyone else what to read.

They can suggest, they can recommend. I'm glad to hear recommendations. But I will read what I want to read, what I need to read, and no one is going to stop me.