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Sunday, August 15, 2010

YA Appreciation Month: The Journey of a Lifetime

Recently, my good friend and comrade in bloggy shenanigans, Tina from Tina's Book Reviews, had a really interesting guest post over at My Five Monkeys on being a fan of young adult literature as an adult.  As if that weren't enough name dropping, today is Audience Participation Day as Young Adult Appreciation Month winds to a close over at The Book Smugglers!

What do these things have to do with one another, you ask?  Well, Tina's post got my juices flowing on just what it is that YA does for me as a reader and why we should care about YA literature anyway, and Audience Appreciation gives me the perfect forum in which to write about it! I love it when a plan comes together.
There's no denying that young adult literature is a force to be reckoned with in the book arena; in fact, there hasn't been any denying that fact for a long time.  The appeal of these books is multifaceted and a unique experience for each person. An increasingly diverse representation of culture, class, gender, orientation, and socioeconomic status means that young adult literature can reach out to a wider audience than ever before (I'm with Tina- I remember when young adult literature was pretty much nonexistent in the way we conceptualize it today.)

Well, you say, that's great and special and wonderful and beautiful and fantastic and everything, but really, who cares?  Doesn't that mean that books are becoming what music, movies, video games, and other, some would say flashier, forms of entertainment have been for years- a way for kids (and adults too, let's not discriminate) to spend money?  Teenagers and young adults are a hugely popular demographic with advertisers because of their relatively large amount of disposable income and relatively small amount of living expenses; aren't books just another way for kids to spend their allowance or their paycheck or whatever?

That, my cynical, money grubbing friend, is only the tip of a gigantic iceberg.  The true value of young adult literature lies not in what it can bring to the financial table (although the buying power of young people is not something that should be ignored; to do so is at your peril) or even in what it can teach (although as a teacher myself I know that one of the best way to engage folks outside of their comfort zones or to get people talking about issues and situations is through the use of high quality, engaging pieces of literature.)  No, the true value in young adult literature is that one elusive facet that youth seems to bring out in people of all ages: a sense of possibility.

My favorite thing about young adult books is the sense of awe and wonder and the desire to do, make, create, and change that they can inspire in the reader.  I'll never forget cracking open Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for the first time.  I'd gotten it from an aunt and uncle and I was sure that getting this as a gift meant the aunt and uncle had forgotten how old I was at the time (in high school.)  Well, I may have finally taken my foot out of my mouth, as Mr. Potter is the star of one of my favorite series of books of all time.

The awe and wonder doesn't have to be a good thing; I don't think anyone out there would say that they want to live under the Capital's regime in The Hunger Games.  The call for social justice, for action, and for refusing to accept the status quo or to let suffering and injustice go unchallenged can be heard loud and clear, though.

As we take in more information and experience a variety of perspective, our sense of the world and our place in it changes and evolves as well.  Through young adult literature, we are able to journey to a variety of worlds and situations where we can learn from the experiences of others without having to have those experiences for ourselves.  Or, if we have had those experiences or know someone who has, we may be better able to address them than we were previously.

BUT WAIT, you say, not willing to give up this argument yet, doesn't adult literature do the same thing? Does that mean you're saying that adult literature has nothing to teach us and we shouldn't bother reading it?

No, silly rabbit, that's not what I'm saying.  Adult literature has plenty to recommend it, but young adult literature is unique in that it reaches out to us at a unique time in our lives, when we are acquiring, molding, shaping, and molding and reshaping the elements of our personalities that make us who we are.  We are learning to be individuals, to think through actions to their consequences, and to truly think for ourselves and make our own decisions; this can take a lifetime of practice and we need support every step of the way.  Young adult literature gives us that, which is another reason that I think YA books find such a huge following among those of us who've long since left the YA demographic.

The journeys we can take through books are never really over- one morphs into the next until it's all a web of ideas and experiences that make each of us unique. Young adult literature plays a role in developing that web and enhancing that journey until ultimately, we pair one with the other and use the books we love and the ideas we believe in to relate to other people, and relating to other people and connecting to them is, in my opinion, the biggest and best thing that YA books have to offer us, regardless of our age.



Chachic said...

Thanks for checking out my YAAM post! I love how you described YA. I, too, read the Harry Potter books when I was in high school and I remember feeling that awe and wonder that you described. I believe I'll never stop reading YA books because the teenager in me will always be able to relate to YA characters.

Tina said...

That was awesome...(singing) I never even thought of the marketing angle. Publishers know they have a gold mine with teens, all that babysitting money...I know I was buying books as a teen, and slipping the really naughty ones under my shirt so the parents wouldnt see it...:D I think Harry Potter will always be a pivotal character in Childrens Lit.

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