Random Thoughts: Why YA?

Many people often wonder why there are so many not-so-young adults reading what has been categorized as Young Adult literature. And especially in the realm of genre fiction such as paranormal and fantasy. After all, there are plenty of novels in these genres that are geared toward an adult audience. The question always seems to come down to, “Why YA?”

There may be very personal reasons for some readers, but these aside, there are some basic differences between YA stories and the same genre literature geared toward a more mature audience that might make a reader opt for YA versions.

The biggest, and most obvious, difference is s-e-x. While there are certain situations in each of the YA books, whether more passionate or romantic, there is a line that publishers, authors, librarians and even parents have set that is deemed acceptable for readers of certain ages.

But the difference isn’t simply about just how graphic the descriptions of the scenes, or how intimate these young characters will become, there tends to be a more innocent approach to these actions by the characters. Their connections are often driven by love versus simply fulfilling a base need. The writers of these books go into great detail to describe the emotions and feelings that go into each act by these young heroes or heroines, creating scenes that will introduce young readers to the emotions behind first love and return older readers to that exciting and scary time in their lives.

A great many of the novels geared toward an adult audience have situations that at times come across as contrived – as if there are a certain number of steamy scenes that need to be written into the story to make it appeal to their fans. These novels filled with either vampires, shape-shifters, angels, demons, faeries, or other supernatural beings seem to focus only in part on the paranormal element and the remainder reads like a romance novel. Some, simply by changing around a few elements, would definitely be categorized as a bodice-ripper.

While a young adult novel would consist of scenes of unrequited love, or a doomed relationship that is destined to fail, a la Romeo and Juliet, the adult counterpart would involve the heroine indulging in various encounters simply for pleasure and casting her suitor aside when she was through. And even in novels which ultimately involve a love that cannot be, the characters will have engaged in at least a few sensual interludes. Though this may not be, in and of itself, a bad thing, it isn’t always germane to the plot and when poorly or awkwardly written will actually detract from the story.

Therefore, readers who do not feel like reading what is tantamount to a romance novel might instead choose to get absorbed into the adventures presented in the YA version.

But why else? It’s not just the lack of s-e-x that holds an appeal. The stories themselves, whether about the supernatural or the everyday, are just as engaging, if not more so, than many of the novels aimed at an adult audience.

There are so many writers in the urban fantasy/paranormal genre that have such a depth and breadth of imagination and creativity that their stories will engage readers of all ages. And, if the books weren’t clearly labeled as “young adult” or placed in the YA sections at bookstores and libraries, it wouldn’t always be easy to distinguish them from an adult novel – aside, perhaps, from the cover art. (Another reason why a reader might not want to pick up the adult versions of these novels from their local booksellers. The covers consisting of men with rippling chest muscles and never a face definitely appear to be something more than rated R.)

No longer are these stories for younger adults “dumbed-down” or simplified or trimmed to a mere 180 pages to meet some unrealistic idea that readers of certain ages are incapable of grasping advanced concepts and language previously deemed suitable only for older readers.

Where once there were only a few authors who broke the mold, combining tales of action, adventure and romance for young readers, there are now more and more writers, with wonderfully vivid imaginations, taking these chances to create something magical. And now with writers who have typically created books for an adult audience venturing into the young adult world, it adds an entirely new dimension to these stories. Having something new and exciting to read, whether by a debut author or a seasoned veteran, will always attract readers of any age.

And yet one other reason why is simply that young adult literature offers a wonderful opportunity to take a break from reality and escape into a world of adventure, peril, excitement, heartbreak and mysticism. Whether the storytelling is serious, humorous or tragic, each of these stories for young adults has that much more flexibility to be imaginative and fantastical. Those adult-aged novels always seem to have a character with one foot stuck in reality – a day job, a husband, children, responsibilities – that doesn’t allow for that same escapism for the reader.

And for those who haven’t yet read a YA novel and seek to judge, I say try a few out first. Because you would really have to be brain damaged not to find something of merit in each and every one.

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