First: I DO NOT REALLY HATE THE YOUNG ADULT SECTION. It is my favorite section of the library and my library puts all of the new YA releases on one shelf and it makes my life so easy! Sometimes they even do displays like, “Best YA of 2018” or “YA Must Reads” or “YA Diversity” and I just walk up and grab all of the books off the display and check them out.
What I hate is that some publisher decides if a book is YA and then my library has to put it in the YA section and then – like 90% of adult readers – avoid it like the plague. And then I have to overhear someone at the library tell a librarian, “Oh…I don’t read anything in the YA section.”
Let me tell you a few things that may blow your mind if you tend to avoid YA books:
- I have put down YA books before because the sex is too graphic for me and I am a prude.
- I have read 20+ “adult” fiction books this year and I did not write any of the words from those books in my bullet journal. And yet…a recent YA had such beautiful prose that it got TWO WHOLE PAGES for dedication. Including the phrase: “Two birch trees leaned together like a new couple holding each other up after too much wine.” I LOVE THAT IMAGERY.
- I have read an entire adult fiction thinking it came from the YA section of the library only to find it did not when I went to look it up again for my daughter to read.
- The phrase that most describes my frantic mind – “My thoughts are stars I can’t fathom into constellations” – was written in a YA book and is now tattoo’ed on my body permanently. It’s a phrase that I turn too when my thoughts are frantic if only because it reminds me that someone else understood enough to assign it to a character in a book and therefore I am not alone.
The only thing I can tell you that is consistent about YA books is that they are about Young Adults. That is it. And not all books about young adults are always placed in the category of YA. Hence my mistake with a book mentioned above. YA books can be full of sex and murder and assault and deception and complicated thoughts on grief and suicide and mental health and gender and sexuality and so many powerful first-person accounts of experiences I never had as a middle class white Christian in America that my world view has been shattered in the pages of YA fiction.
I’ve read some spectacular science fiction and fantasy world-building in YA fiction. I’ve been moved to tears by assault and tragedy in YA fiction. I’ve been elated by personal growth and traumatized by war in YA fiction. All of these things that people miss out on simply because of that YA written on the spine at the library.
And yet they’ll read these books simply because of the lack of the YA on the spine.
These two books right here are great. Wonderful! Riveting and easy to read and will definitely be on my list of favorites from 2018! But they shocked me when I realized they were NOT classified as Young Adult fictions. If you had asked me as I was reading them, I would have thought they were. They both were about Young Adults and that’s basically the only quantifiable characteristic I’ve ever noticed. AND YET! They were not in the YA section. Now, The Royal We does take the characters past the Young Adult age into solid “adult” territory, I guess? But I was really surprised An Absolutely Remarkable Thing ended up being an “adult” fiction instead of a YA.
But you know what? GOOD FOR THOSE BOOKS. Because there are millions of adults who still think YA is Baby Sitter’s Club, Harry Potter and Twilight. So those two books have access to millions more adult eyes now that they are shelved outside the YA section.
That’s what breaks my heart, people only looking for books in adult fiction section assuming they would not like the books in the YA section. You know what books I’ve read this year that I’m so sad people are not reading because they’re in the YA section? Well, there are tons, but I’m calling this list: Book I Read This Year That Anyone Who Reads “Adult” Fiction Are Missing Out On By Avoiding.
(That’s not the best list title, I am aware.)
The Astonishing Color of After depicted grief in the most powerful way I’ve ever read. I also journeyed to Taiwan with the lead character and I felt submersed in a new world with her descriptions. As the story unfolds and reveals the pain felt around deteriorating mental health and the ripple effects in a family knocked me to my core. I found that some of the words made me feel physical pain as they stirred up sorrow and fear and loss in my own heart. I just can’t imagine a world where someone has struggled with grief or mental health and would walk past this book because it simply featured a character of a younger age.
The anxiety the lead character suffers in American Street when she ends up in Detroit without her mother who got detained by immigration when they arrived from Haiti is palpable. As she tries to navigate the new culture with only the family she barely knows, while worrying about her Mother in custody, I felt like I needed to close my eyes and breathe periodically because it was written so well I felt like concern was transferring directly into my own nervous system.
Children of Blood and Bone is one of those amazing Fantasy worlds I referenced above. But the parallels between that world and ours, especially as it relates to our country’s past with slavery and colonization, is poignant. But this is not for the faint of heart…there’s murder in the most tragic of senses and the most brutal of manners. There is true evil and discovery of self and the pain of shame and the guilt of betrayal that surrounds the tragedy of war. There are conflicts with family that rips apart the heart and there’s complexity to relationships rarely seen in popular adult fiction. Also? Lin-Manuel Miranda is reading it.
Black Wings Beating is another amazing fantasy world built but with poignant dramas between humans and nature and the pain that comes when denying your own true self. The main characters in this book – a brother and a sister – have had to grow up faster than they should with one parent who is abusive and another who is disconnected from their reality. This fantasy world also establishes homosexual love as benign as heterosexual love in our world and I love it for that. This is the book which I copied so many passages from. I need to buy my own copy, so I can read it again and highlight the words that spoke to my soul because there were so many. The imagery of this world was strong and vivid and I can’t imagine someone who reads fantasy in the adult fiction section would be disappointed in this one.
I know I basically wrote half of my year-end book review in this entry but hearing that person at the library just blindly boycott all books in the YA section killed me dead. Do you like fantasy? Romance? History? Magic? Sci-Fi? Mystery? YOU CAN FIND ALL OF THAT IN THE YA SECTION. Uggg.
This is obviously the hill I have chosen to die on.