Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wednesday Words: Why YA?

It's a very dangerous and powerful question to be asking. It's also one that I can't believe I haven't taken the time here to answer before, especially since this is 99.9% a young adult book blog.

But then Beth Revis posted that she's having a contest for lots of amazing autographed books (learn how you can enter here!), and to enter, one must attempt an answer to the question "why YA?"

Now I must confess that I didn't start reading YA until fairly recently, at least not consciously. I adored Meg Cabot's books as a teen and have been a voracious reader my entire life, but I was never aware that there was actually a whole section of the library or bookstore dedicated to other books like hers, books that were specifically written for people my age. I was an AP Literature student in high school, where we were told that we could handle the Canonical Literature, the big stuff, the heavy hitters that a lot of adults wouldn't get within ten feet of if they could help it. And I liked a lot of it (my love for Jane Austen's work runs deep and true) but there was always that disconnect. Those books were about grownups, and while I was bright, I simply wasn't a grownup yet.

But then the beautiful world of library school happened. I took children's lit and loved it, and my professor Dr. Loretta Gaffney was amazing. When I found out she was teaching a YA lit course the next semester, I signed up without a second thought. And suddenly, my eyes were open. I knew I loved working with teens and wanted to continue to do so, but who knew there were such great books out there for them too!

It nearly killed me when I realized so many of these books I was falling in love with had actually been published when I was a teenager, but I never knew it. John Green's debut novel Looking for Alaska was published in December, 2005 - I was a high school senior. Sarah Dessen's first book, That Summer, came out in 1996 - I was 8 years old and could have been reading that and her subsequent books in my teens rather than in my early 20s.

So why YA, and why now? A lot of it feels like making up for lost time. Many of these books could have been my very best companions during my teen years, and so many of the incredible books coming out now have the magical ability to transport me back to those memories and that mindset. I'm only 24, so I'm not so far removed, but it's enough perspective to make me appreciate YA in a new way. It all boils down to the wisdom of JK Rowling via Albus Dumbledore: Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels, but old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.

Another significant part of it is the awesome power that comes with being a teenager, a power I didn't realize I had possessed until those years were behind me. YA explores it so well: infinite possibility. YA lit, like young adults themselves, can go in any direction. No question to crazy, no situation too outrageous, and characters and readers are challenged to rise to the occasion. And I love that, and I miss that, and these books reignite that fire in me to push a little further, be a little weirder, because if that's who I am, then rock on. YA lit has taught me that. Being a book blogger and becoming a part of this incredible community where I get to meet fellow writers and bloggers, and learning from the words and smiles of published authors has taught me that. Becoming a librarian who struggles with writing her own manuscripts, hoping to someday see my name on bookshelves too, has taught me that.

And there aren't enough words in the entire universe to fully explain how incredibly grateful I am for all of it.

So I hope that's some sort of satisfactory answer to Beth's question. It's long and rambling, but I hope my enthusiasm comes through =) Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

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