A Writer’s Biography, Volume I, Part 5: Ambivalence Toward YA Fiction by a YA

I’m now a teacher of young adults. As part of being a teacher, I try to get kids active with reading. I’ve even taken it upon myself to collect some books in my own room for their reading interest. As part of this effort, I’ve acquired more than a few books with the “YA” (Young Adult) stickers on their spines, and they now are part of my improvised library.

If I were building a library from scratch, however, it probably wouldn’t include many YA books. This was the case even when I was a YA myself.

In my memory, which can probably tell tall tales as well as anything, the label of YA fiction started sometime in earnest around the late 1960’s and continued on since then. That always made sense to me, because the youth market was so big in those days due to the baby boom generation of my parents.

I missed out on the megahit YA genre series that have come to dominate the market in the 21st century, like Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Divergent, and The 5th Wave, among others. (Personally, I enjoyed Potter, was so-so on the Hunger Games, never thought Divergent made sense, and The 5th Wave was over the top, but had promise.)

Back during my childhood, there were a lot of kids that looked like me in towns that looked like mine dealing with teenage dramas that even then seemed irrelevant. I wanted to jump right into the big adult novels, like 1984 and Stephen King’s work. (It’s going to take another blog post to discuss my ongoing obsession for King’s work, and maybe more than one post.) I had made the amazing discovery that fiction that touched on the adult themes that kept kids of my time out of R-rated movies was far more accessible in book format than in theaters or television. That’s not the only reason I read those books, but it was admittedly one of them.

Despite my wariness about YA titles, I couldn’t help but pay attention to some authors that I couldn’t help admiring after I’d had the chance to read them. Paul Zindel and Chris Crutcher were two of them – I dug their offbeat young characters and attempts to find their own identities in hostile environments that I couldn’t imagine growing up in.

It was when I read The Grounding of Group 6 by Julian F. Thompson that a YA novel really caught my attention. Kids forced to immediately grow up – in this case, because your parents want you dead? Kids having to run into the forest to avoid sharpshooting teachers? Kids falling in love while on the run? What wouldn’t a 13-year-old me not like about it?

There were some flaws about it, however – some of the adults seemed to be too silly to believe and the kids seemed to have things too together at times. But 13-year-old me saw a great story about kids having to grow up unexpectedly. That’s the type of story that never grows old (pun somewhat intended).

In the end, I came to realize that it didn’t matter whether a book was classified as YA or not, just like it didn’t matter whether it was called sci-fi, horror, romance, literary, or unclassifiable. If a book had a story and characters I related to and fired my imagination, labels didn’t matter.

I didn’t usually read YA, and I still don’t. But sometimes one of them does spark the imagination.

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