The Edinburgh book festival is a veritable feast of authors and all manner of book related events that we are incredibly fortune to be able to attend every year. One of the events my teenage daughter and I went to this year was ‘The Great YA Debate’, a discussion on the category of young adult fiction, it’s features, it’s role and whether it curtails teen readers from moving on to more sophisticated adult novels. Chaired superbly by Daniel Hahn it was an hour and a half of lively discussion with many important issues raised. Anthony McGowan suitably provoked the audience with his sometimes controversial thoughts on young adult fiction (as an author for young people himself I did wonder how far his arm had been twisted to play this part, although I think he was enjoying winding up the crowd!). Elizabeth Wein provided a voice of reason with contributions from other YA authors Christopher Edge, Jenny Downham, Annabel Pitcher and Patrice Lawrence. There were many relevant and pertinent issues raised and it was good to hear so many thoughts from young people too. My daughter and I both thoroughly enjoyed this event and have carried on our conversations on this topic at home. I thought it would be more interesting to share a young persons view on this topic so my daughter has willingly obliged and written the rest of this post for me!
Recently I attended a debate on YA fiction with various authors sharing different viewpoints on the importance of YA books and who they are for. Currently some readers, who I think seem quite snobbish, look down on adults who “read down” suggesting they are not maturing and moving on to books that are more appropriate. Others simply dismiss YA books as tacky vampire romance novels. It seems there is a lot of prejudice surrounding YA fiction, a category which is blossoming and growing in variety. So is there a place for YA books or are they just simple tales for those avoiding reality?
Let’s take a closer look at YA books. Most often stereotyped as books along the lines of Twilight or The Hunger Games, the reality is it is an exciting category crammed with books covering a huge breadth of topics often tackling subjects that are shied away from and expressing a variety of emotions. Of course there are some mediocre YA books but the same can be said of adult books, and there are many that are fascinating. It was suggested that YA books are too simple but I think there are many complex and important issues such as death, rape , sexuality and identity in these books which are written in a way that’s accessible for young people like myself. Hans Hoffman said “the ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak”. I think this is what so many YA books do well. This is not meant to insult adult novels but to demonstrate that just because something seems simple doesn’t mean it’s not powerful. I personally think it’s fine for adults to read YA books as they can open pathways to imagination and provide valuable insight into the issues that face teenagers today.
I don’t want to sound like I am dismissing adults novels, many adult books are intriguing with stories that are thrilling and heartfelt and of course there are wonderful classics. As an avid reader I devour classic novels and Shakespeare plays – they give me an opportunity to look into the past and provide a challenge that satisfies my brain. As within the YA category there are good books and not so good books.
My striking thought at the debate was who is anyone else to judge anyone else’s choice of literature? Books are books, why can’t we just read? Why should an adult feel bad for reading YA books or a child feel that they can’t read adult books? I read Les Miserables at 10 years old, enjoy borrowing books from my mum but also love many YA books. I think it’s great that my mum can borrow and read my YA books too as there are so many excellent books within this category and we can enjoy sharing and talking about what we have read. I think within both adult and YA books there are rubbish books but there are also so many brilliant books that inspire, stir emotion, make you think, help you face challenges or allow you to escape to a new world for a while. Why should any work of wonder be abandoned or dismissed by many because of what category they have been put in? I think you should read what you want and need to read and that we shouldn’t let any categories bind us to only reading certain books but should feel free to explore and have our lives enriched by the many wonderful books out there.