How Young Literature Is Dangerously Expanding Our Imaginations

In the recent decade, the rise of young adult series have grown to prominent degrees within the literary community. When it comes to measuring best sellers worldwide, the young adult genre have a definite cornerstone on profiting off each franchise installment. For those unaware, or possibly just never cared enough to find out, on what exactly defines a ‘young adult’ series: YA literature follows the coming of age tale of a, well, young adult. For the most part, these pieces of fiction are characterized by sweeping first loves, periods of profound confusion, searches for self discovery, and all that goes into the path of growing up. But if you have been paying attention to the frantic marketing of these young adult series, such as John Green‘s Paper Towns or the installment of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, you might also recognize the stigma that comes along with this particular brand of literature.

All in all, the massive backlash against young adult literature shouldn’t be too groundbreaking. As it is, we live in a culture that loves to shame teenage girls for anything and everything. We condemn girls for wearing makeup while marketing their own insecurities to them through body shaming promotional tactics. We criticize girls for going wild over One Direction while forgetting that there are grown men starting riots over soccer games. We mock girls who take selfies despite the fact that centuries ago, it was all the rage to commission actual artists for nudes. In this day and age, where acceptance is supposed to be the next new thing, we cultivate a culture where it’s considered to be shameful to enjoy the things that teenage girls love. I’m a firm believer in the idea that taste does not determine personal worth and regardless of whether someone enjoys The Fault In Our Stars or The Beautiful and the Damned, neither is indicative of their value as a human being.

Furthermore, we are so quick to attack young girls for enjoying a brand of literature marketed towards them that we fail to consider why exactly young adult novels are so popular within the teen community.

Young adult series, unlike any other genre, are written for a target audience with a specific demographic. As someone who is an avid fan of cheesy romantic comedies and the occasional supernatural fantasy, I can wholeheartedly say that reading YA literature has had a huge influence in the way that I saw myself as a teenage girl. There are certain traits in this type of literature which you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else and these are the same issues that speak most to young adults when they can’t relate to Lolita (at least, I hope that they can’t relate to Lolita) or Of Mice and Men. If you have never been a teenage girl, you might not understand the very unique struggles of being a 13 – 18 year old adolescent in the modern age. If you used to be a teenage girl, or are still one, then you can most likely identify with the struggles that define these novels. You can understand the loneliness of being an outsider, the thrill of finding love for the first time, and the ultimate need to feel ‘special’ in a world that is constantly overlooking you. Teenage girls, and boys, are drawn to these particular types of books because they mirror the struggles of the average young adult rising above and beyond. The characters in these series are heroines and heroes that you can root for because they are you. They rise from the ordinary to the extraordinary, omit a few werewolves here and there, and what teenage doesn’t dream of that?

Don’t shame teenage girls for finding appeal in one of the few pieces of work that don’t trivialize their existence. If you’re going to find fault in the genre, criticize the authors who exploit the struggles of being a teenage to promote harmful messages.

As much as I love the genre as a whole, starting with Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series (because, hello, am I not a princess?), there is a huge problem with the way that it’s structured to actually damage the psyche of a teenager. Given the developing minds of any adolescent, what they consume can and will ultimately play a role in how they view themselves and the world. In Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series, the main protagonist, Clary, defines herself as a girl who hates other girls. In John Green’s Looking for Alaska, Miles develops an unhealthy habit of romanticizing a girl who was in desperate need for mental aid. The list goes on and on. Because young adult series exists as the genre where readers could self insert themselves as the protagonist, this creates a terrible message to send to readers. Why are we telling teenage girls to hate other teenage girls? Why are we glorifying mental illnesses? Instead, why can’t we use young adult literature to shed light on the unique issues of the 21st century? Starting with: internal misogyny, predatory behavior, abusive relationships, and the other plethora of challenges that comes with growing up.

Imagine how profound these novels could be if they taught our children the importance of knowing your worth without bashing someone else’s value.

These authors aren’t stupid. In fact, they’re nothing short of marketing geniuses who were able to grasp the insecurities and struggles of being a teenager to market a harmful solution in form of literature. How easy is it to tell an audience that they’re special because they’re ‘one of the boys’ and ‘don’t care about makeup’ when those lines are already drawn today? How incredibly effortless would it be to claim that there’s beauty in loving someone who treats you like garbage? These YA authors don’t care about the wellbeing of their teenage audience; they want the validation and monumental success that comes with writing lazy literature that only promote detrimental messages because in this day and age, that is what sells. This is the problem with mainstream young adult series: the authors who exploit their audience to validate harmful crap that’s already being sold to our teens. Don’t be angry at the girls who read young adult literature. Be angry at the authors who think it’s acceptable to take advantage of their vulnerability.

Meanwhile, there is a whole undiscovered section of young adult literature that actually transcend positive messages. There are authors who write about the struggles of being a queer teenage in a heteronormative society. There are authors who write about racial tensions well and alive in an age where racism is seen as comedy gold. There are even supernatural thrillers that speak out against the sexualization of abuse, completed with werewolves and vampires and all. In fact, Courtney Summers just published a novel, All The Rage, that reflects rape culture and victim blaming in rural America. There are plenty of young adult series worth reading. It’s just a matter of weeding out the bad and rebranding the genre so that we can finally have something of worth delivered to our girls.

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