Humans love putting things into categories and boxes and books are no exception. Fiction, non-fiction, cook books… so far, that isn’t a bad idea. After all, who wants to walk into a book shop and have to look through encyclopedias and picture books when they are looking for a novel to read?
Labels are a different story entirely. Who has picked up a book a wondered if “self-help” was really the correct definition? Just last week in my interview with Freya North, she explained how the term “chick lit” reduced funny romances, or domestic dramas to easy, light summer reading when all these books can’t be put into the same box and labelled at all.
The ones who struggle most with the stigma around their books are authors of young adult books. It seems that it is unacceptable to read teen books (that is, books that have been labelled and stacked on a shelf labelled “teen”) after the age of sixteen, maybe eighteen at a push. There are some exceptions: If you are relatively young and have read a certain author as a teen, you can get away with reading a sequel even when you have outgrown those books.
Otherwise, you are expected to read adult books (old adults?).
Books educate. Young adult books have lessons in them about everything in life: from, yes, surviving school, to friendship, first love, and also society: why some people are the way they are, stories about people from all walks of life, trying to find a way in this world. And whenever you listen to a YA author, you learn a life lesson.
John Green, author of bestseller The Fault in Our Stars, gave a little lesson on YA books in London on Friday. Paper Towns, the third YA novel by John Green, published 2008, is out in cinemas in August and 1,679 fans – me included – got the opportunity to meet the author on his European Tour.
“We have a responsibility to try to listen to each other, try to understand what it is like to be someone else.”
Compassion, empathy, appreciation of one another. Is this something all adults know? No. So why is it that only young people are allowed to read the books that clearly teach and develop basic social skills? Why are these books labelled YA?
I am just going to give it away and tell you that all that “YA” means, is that the characters are young adults, but by no means should you stop reading about them because you have turned 18.
I *don’t* write for teens; I write *about* teens. Teens are as varied as adults. Just younger.
— Justine Larbalestier (@JustineLavaworm) June 23, 2015
Writing about young adults is in no way easy, especially since most authors are “old adults” by then themselves, but some seem to be managing very well: Meg Cabot, J.D. Salinger, Stephen Chbosky, Veronica Roth, James Dashner, Sarah Dessen, Gayle Forman, J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, …
Some of these I will talk about in more detail next week, but today is about what makes YA so special. John Green is a particularly good example, not just because every single one of his books has been a great success, but because he focuses on realistic rather than happy endings.
“A girl is allowed to be as complicated and multi-faceted and she wants to be” says John Green about his Paper Towns character Margo, played by Cara Delevingne, and it is our responsibility to accept her and the choices she makes, whether we think it is good for the story or whether we agree with her or not. And again, what more could we want people to learn than acceptance of each other and each others choices. See what you miss out on if you stop reading about young adults? Categories shouldn’t limit us in such a way and to prove it, I will be talking about some of my favourite YA authors and books next week!