I Love... YA
One of the titles on my profile is “YA Evangelist.” A few (ok, maybe none) of you might wonder what that means.
The thing is, couple of years ago, I found myself in a bit of a reading funk. I’d been an avid fantasy fan for years because I loved being immersed in these other worlds and cultures, and they made me consider my own world and culture and how they came to be. (Hey, I’ve always claimed to be a nerd, ok?) But I found myself burned out on their tendency to turn into Never Ending Series.
I was also over my pretentious phase that most people go through during college involving meta books by authors such as Richard Bach and James Redfield. And Very Serious Literature, the kind of books I was supposed to be thoughtfully reading as a 30 year old…bored and depressed the freakin’ hell out of me. I settled for random books that I found on my library’s staff recommendation table that spanned all genres, but there was no denying that the volume of my reading had decreased immensely. Instead of reading at least 50 books a year, I was down to 15-20 (of which I liked/loved maybe 5). Which for me was sad and unacceptable.
Around the same time, I joined twitter to see what the whole “social media” craze that I had thus far avoided was all about (I still refuse to join the facebook). I soon found myself following fellow Blazers fan Sarah, due to a hilarious tweet regarding the semantics of the “melodramatic” (see what I did there, basketball fans?) trade that sent superstar Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks. Eventually, I noticed a frequent tendency of others to ask Sarah for book recommendations. I was all,
“Hey. I can’t seem to find books I like on my own. I may as well read something that a fellow Blazers fan suggests. Since Blazers fans are so well known for their rationality and savvy and all.”
So, against my better judgment upon hearing the weird title, I picked up The Hunger Games at the library. After reading, oh, a chapter or so, I went online and put the other two books in the trilogy on hold.
So, I then began scouring Sarah’s timeline for other recs whenever I finished a book. Eventually, I stopped my silly covert searches in favor of proper stalking by actually tweeting her for a personalized list. On that list was Melina Marchetta’s The Piper’s Son, which I adored. A few months later came Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races, which made me—ME!—late for work. Twice.
Then I got a Kindle (and a sizeable Kindle gift card) for Christmas, leading to a flurry of recommendations from Sarah and Maggie via twitter, including Freefall, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, Angelfall, the Tomorrow series and Revolution.
Then I joined Goodreads, which came with its own flurry of recommendations based on my high ratings of the aforementioned books. With that, my plunge into the depths of YA was complete.
Now, there’s been a lot of talk lately regarding the “issue” of adults reading young adult books. Some judgy people seem to think that what other of-age people legally do with their free time is their business. I say fuck ‘em. For those of you looking for a more in-depth, less profane response, I suggest reading one of Sarah’s marvelous rants here, here or here.
However, though I don’t care to to rant because Sarah already does it so well and because I am lazy, I would like to articulate not just why I read, but why I heart YA.
I love being able to revisit ALL OF THE FEELINGS from ALL OF THE FIRSTS.
Because let’s face it, sometimes being a responsible adult can be a bit pedestrian: Wake up. Commute. Work. Cook (or stop at the Burgerville drive-thru for) dinner. Errands. Housework. Sleep. Repeat. (Perhaps this is the fabled Human Condition espoused by Very Serious Literature and why I’m so bored when I read about it.) But being a teenager means being full of raw, unabated intensity. I love being yanked out of the doldrums of my daily life and following someone like Todd Hewitt on his journey, while he runs for his life while falling in love with the only girl he’s ever met, all while learning about how to grow up amongst what seems to be a corrupt world full of cruel choices (Manchee!!! *sob*).
Along the same lines, I love YA because it provides an outlet for those times when I have a bad day and want to stamp my feet and wail about the utter unfairness of the world.
When I live my daily life, my responsibilities, rather than my feelings, come first. I can’t freak out in a client’s home when the piano is fighting me while I’m tuning. I need to suck it up, get the job done and get paid so I can pay my rent. But, you know, sometimes I DON’T WANNA. That’s when someone like Ruby Oliver, with her anxiety and hilarious penchant to gloriously express her emotions every moment she has them, comes in handy. Through someone like Ruby, I can get all the pouting and angsting out of my system. And because I’m just reading, no one can lecture me or ground me for being immature. SO THERE.
I love the perspective that reading YA as an adult provides.
When you experience adolescence, things are just not funny. Figuring out your place in and what you want out of the world is no easy feat. On top of all that, the changes, physical and otherwise, are awkward, bewildering, and can be downright miserable. Nothing in life seems to fit together properly, like we’ve suddenly been Frankensteined. I personally had a terrible middle school experience. I was a new girl in a new city at a new school, and was relentlessly bullied for my first year. Obviously, I switched to a different high school, which was better, but meh at best. Plus my dad got some perverse enjoyment out of lecturing me for hours on end on fun topics such as the importance of practicing math daily so I could achieve a high SAT score. But when I read YA, the experience doesn’t seem so bad. Actually, it all seems pretty funny. But when it doesn’t seem funny, when I find myself giving into the misery of the more negative memories, I have Jessica Darling, god bless her snarky heart.
Speaking of adult perspective, I love the relatability that comes from reading about the experience of dealing with adolescence.
There are no shortcuts to growing up, plus most of us went to middle school, high school, butted heads with our parents and fell (or thought we fell) in love for the first time, went to college, and then very gingerly (or perhaps kicking and screaming) stepped into adulthood. It’s reassuring to know that, uh, I’m not the only one who did certain things and lived in a certain way that I don’t want to admit to now that I am a Very (ok, somewhat) Responsible Adult (look, just read Charmed Thirds, ok?). And though different socio-economic circumstances mean that I never lived in a trailer park next to an airport and learned how to fly a plane like Leah in Such a Rush, I could still keenly identify with her struggles in being misunderstood by everyone around her, in having assumptions made about her based how she looked and where she grew up. So much of being a teenager seems to be about how “NO ONE UNDERSTANDS ME!” due to all of the unfamiliar feelings and firsts. So even with the passage of time, there’s a comfort in knowing that others felt the same way, that perhaps we weren’t as alone as we thought we were at the time.
Annnnnd speaking of not being alone, I love how YA focuses on fostering positive relationships, whether they be familial, platonic, or romantic.
So much of Very Serious Literature (at least what I’ve read of it) seems predicated on this concept that because we all die alone, we may as well prepare for it by living alone, with an especially cheery focus on divorce, estrangement from one’s children and/or parents, and actions such as infidelity that alienate those who care about us. Then the VSL characters whinge about the hollow emptiness of their very lonely lives. Wha-aaaaa? Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, that shit is boring and depressing. While it’s true that I have minimal control over how I will meet my end, that should and will not control how I live. Of course there will be mistakes and misunderstandings and (for me, at least) periodic self-imposed isolation, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a way forward. Look at Tom Mackee. Or Adam Wilde. Or Marcie. YA reminds me that, despite my prickly personality and tendency to sneer, there is always room for those I care about and those who care about me, and I should take advantage of that.
In the same vein, I love the thread of hope and possibility that tends to run through YA.
I love that the stories tend to be based around characters learning to move through their angst to get to a better place, a place where they can look forward to all of the possibilities instead of feeling like the future is a burden. Rather than being books that wallow in lament and regret over life and mistakes and the roads not taken, YA is about how to work through mistakes and life’s zany curveballs, to see the value in learning from those experiences to become a better, stronger version of one’s self. Seth is a poor, sarcastic smartass consumed by guilt and alcoholism at the beginning of Freefall. By the end, he’s still a poor, sarcastic smartass, but one who’s learned how to own his past and take advantage of his limited opportunities. This kind of book reminds me that while I do have certain obligations as a married adult, I still have choices. And that it’s ok to not have everything figured out just because I’m old. Instead, it’s all in how I approach the uncertainty and what I do with what I discover around the various bends, which, thanks to YA, I’m determined will be with hope rather than pretentious wallowing.
Finally, I love YA because I’m just a visitor.
When you get right down to it, I am relieved to not be a teenager anymore. I don’t want to live with all of those feelings permanently. Frankly, that sounds awful and literally just made me shudder. Because as much as it may have sounded otherwise in this post, I love my life as an adult. I love the comfort and stability of being happily married with a steady income. But when I feel scared and uncertain, I know that YA will always have a guest room ready so that I can live and learn side by side with my favorite characters for a while, after which I am ready and willing to go back to my cozy adult home.