There's a stigma against young adult, or teen, lit. It's "not literary," it's escapism, it's total mush designed to corrupt your child's soul and innocence, it paints an unrealistic portrait of adolescence... I'm sure we all have heard it all. Critics of teen novels group them with the likes of beach reading, chick lit, and generally other fiction genres that professional book critics and academic scholars turn up their noses at.
It's a shame, too, because there really is so much good YA lit out there. Sure, there are the trashy, drama-ridden teen series that generate so much media (and money) and paint the inaccurate portrait that teen novels are a waste of paper. But there's also so much more than that. Young adult literature is a genre where confused adolescents, struggling to come into their own identity away from their parents' or even their friends' expectations, can find solace and even kinship.
I mean, the teen years ain't easy, friend. I remember numerous nights where all I could do was pour my heart through shaky fingers into my journal and then cry myself to sleep at night, screaming into my pillow the words that I wished I could tell someone, someone who'd listen and understand what I was going through. But of course, there was no such person.
But through books, I found friends. I found similarities, the knowledge that I'm not alone, that these feelings I'm experiencing? This sense of loneliness, of isolation that I can never seem to shake? The hair-ripping awkwardness that consumes me around anybody I actually want to be friends with? It's all natural. I am not the only one with this problem, these feelings. And the feeling of relief that I encounter when I can see myself as the main character, or see myself being a character's friend, is profound and deep.
Nowadays I am lucky enough to not have to find my only source of companionship and empathy in black and white. However, I still read YA lit, and not just because I intend to work with adolescents when I graduate, and so never want to forget the emotions associated with being in the teen years. So why, then?
I bring this up not because I want to write a "Why I Read YA Lit" essay (although that would be fun), but because I'm struggling to retain my faith in the genres that I love to read without succumbing to the general consensus around me that YA lit is trite and uninformed. I'm currently taking a librarianship internship/class this semester. I'm incredibly lucky, I know, I know. Pretty much the biggest thing I'm learning from it is that I'm not a good for academic librarianship, not at all, lol.
Anyway, each of the students in the class create a final project. My classmates are doing things such as archiving in the Friends Historical Collection (the Quaker documents library on my school's campus), giving a reading of T. S. Eliot and showing books related to him that can be found in our Rare Books Room, and so on and so forth. Me? I want to do my project on the type of books I love the most. You got it. I want to do a project on young adult literature.
I've had my fair share of doubts as to how well it's gonna work. For one thing, my school's library has NO teen books at all. For another, my school is full of high-fallutin', four-syllable-word-spewing, liberalemo potential social activists. These are the type of kids who think that literature is reading David Foster Wallace or Jonathan Safran Froer with a cigarette and/or beer in the other hand.
I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with Wallace's or Froer's works. The problem here is that very few of my classmates even consider teen books a legitimate form of literature. Needless to say, I'm kind of scared shitless to do my project. What if I'm met with a bunch of blank stares that are secretly hiding jeers and cries of "low-minded"?
I considered taking the easy way out: scouring the Rare Books Room for some pretty books to put on display, or whatever. But after two months of being part of the YA blogosphere, I've decided to stick with my initial decision of working with YA literature. Ultimately I want more people to realize that books written for teens does not equal "bad lit." It doesn't matter how lacking my school is in the volumes of information that I'd need for a project like this (which is probably going to relate to my thesis as well).
But I'm going to do it. I want to help promote quality YA literature and help it reach a larger audience. I want to expand the reading horizons of as many readers as possible. I want to reach a point where I no longer feel like a creep or misplaced being if I stand in front of the YA shelves at the local bookstore or library. Literature is all about influencing people and possibly helping them constantly revise their views of the world, right? Who says that that job isn't limited to the likes of Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood, or Toni Morrison? Who says that YA authors and supporters can't have the same effect?
Besides, I know you've all got my back. When my project is done, I'm celebrating it with y'all. :)