Why Read YA Lit

Kudos to the Washington Post Express who today published a 2-page spread titled The Next Chapter, giving readers a glimpse into this Summer’s hot Young Adult titles. In their explanation lading up to the synopsis, “What makes mature adults duck into the YA shelves at the bookstore of click ‘Teens’ on Amazon? Everybody has personal reasons, but here’s one that’s pretty universal: Many YA books are excellent.”

A couple of the books highlighted are books I myself am after:

What Can’t Wait by Ashley Hope Perez, the story of a Mexican-American girl who must choose between pursuing her academic goals or following her parent’s wishes of starting a family.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver, set in a world where love is considered an illness that requires surgery to fix. What happens when one teen challenges this ideal?

But the topic of YA lit has also shown up in some negative light this week. Not the literature itself, but its purpose.

Lisa Belkin, a reviewer/blogger for the NYT, claims that two recently published YA books covering the subject matter of abusive relationships don’t send a good message. She writes, “The need to tell a good story gets in the way of the message….Any girl who needs guidance navigating a threatening relationship will probably not find it here.” Another blogger, Sarah Ockler, retorts, “This broad categorization of YA as Establisher of Morals and Teacher of Wayward Youth…is as outmoded as my Sony Walkman…”. Furthermore, “the purpose of young adult fiction is singular: to tell a story. Period.”

I tend to agree with Ockler, given that each reader takes something different from every book. I, for example, am currently slugging my way through Room by Emma Donoghue, an award-winning book that others have read in 3 hours, but I can’t seem to listen to for more than 30 minutes without acquiring a headache. I don’t love it, yet others have felt their lives completely change after reading it. My life was forever altered after reading Eat, Pray, Love but many of my gal pals find it a narcissistic tale of a depressed and lonely woman.

My point is…each reader takes away something different (if anything at all) from every book they read, despite its being well-written, or having a good message. It is not up to a blogger/reviewer to tell parents (her review was posted in the Motherlode: adventures in parenting section of NYT Online) that their children aren’t going to get guidance/a strong message/pleasure from this book or that book. It is up to the reader.

So then she follows it up a few days later with another post that includes a copy-and-paste of her previous post’s conclusion and an additional question to parents, “Do parents really understand how much of an unquestioned given sex and drinking are in these stories?” Wait, what?! First you hate on the books for not giving enough of a strong message, then you turn on them for including illegal/immoral actions? Also, there are PLENTY of YA books that don’t include sex and drugs. Clearly you are not as widely read as then teen librarian that is giving suggestions to your reader’s teens, Ms. Belkin. If you were more widely read, you would know that there are plenty of YA books with sex, drugs, bad words, and great messages, but that are…wait for it…horribly written. Likewise, there are incredibly well-written books that are rife with sex and violence and drugs, and have no message whatsoever.

Crap now I’ve confused myself. Does Belkin hate YA books with no message? Or YA books that aren’t written well? Or YA books that have sex and drugs?

…exactly. And sadly, folks, this woman’s blog is probably read by hundreds of helicopter parents. I’m glad I can be that badass teen librarian who sneaks ‘bad’ books to her young readers. Corruption!!

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