Monday, September 1, 2014

Diving into Young Adult Books

Five weeks into the start of my school year reading has made reading pop in my mind.  My students and I read for 30 minutes each day.  Students choose the books they want to read and that naturally tilts into the Young Adult genre.  What I want to say to them is THANK YOU.

Looking at books they are reading opens my eyes to new worlds.  Seeing a few students read Gayle Forman's If I Stay prompted me to pick up the book.  I liked it but it didn't GRAB me like the follow up Where She Went did.  This book is one that I still have trouble putting down and find myself reading sections of over and over....and over.  And would not have happened without them.  This got me to thinking.  Why do I enjoy books under the young adult label so much?  And also, why does it irritate me when people belittle this genre?

My thoughts are pretty straightforward.  I enjoy this genre because of the characters I enter the worlds of.  I admire their complexity; their passion, and their insecurity.  The idea of people learning who they are, struggling with identity, and observing the world around them is present in most YA books.  And through their stories I learn more about my own.  I relate to different circumstances.  I understand myself, and others, more deeply through the pages I read.  And I find that those stories help me relate to those around me.  Through reading these books I become more aware of the world around me....and what part I want to play in that world.

Which leads me to those who are dismissive of YA books.  Many say that they are too simple, too geared towards happy endings.  They say that these books are good for people until they want to get more serious and thoughtful about the world around them.  I assume they mean that by reading 'older' books or 'classics' people will have a more enriched experience.  I understand this point of view but I wonder if the people who think this way read YA books with an open mind.
I've read many 'classic' or 'adult' books and been left wanting.  Powerful stories are powerful stories.  East of Eden is a life-altering book (at least it was for me) regardless of the older audience it is geared towards.  The Giver makes me think deeply about love and what it means to be human; regardless of the 'young adult' audience it is geared for.  To say that one genre of books is for the more serio  

Diving into Young Adult books teaches me about who I am.  Whether it be relating to people who hide personal secrets like Melinda in Speak or to characters like Lindsey Lee Wells in An Abundance of Katherines, who hide behind what people expect to see; I view myself in these characters.  And this doesn't make me feel young or simple minded.  Quite the opposite.  It makes me appreciate that these authors have understood thoughts I have had and put them into concise, and powerful, language.

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