The concept of Young Adult Literature is foreign to most adults. Many adults don’t really think about it and just assume that readers jump from Dr. Seuss to Great Expectations. Other adults who know about the existence of Young Adult Literature are snobby about it and think, “Why would I want to read that? It’s beneath me, and I couldn’t possibly get any reward by reading it…” Both of these trains of thought are SO very wrong. Young Adult Literature plays a vital role in many teenagers’ lives and contributes into making them lifelong readers.
The first group of teens who is highly affected by YA literature is a group commonly referred to as ‘reluctant readers’. Often times, these are teens who struggled to learn to read in elementary school, they were in the ‘slower’ reading group (It doesn’t matter the name of the group—Everyone in the classroom knew which groups ranked at which level….). Because reading is developmental, some of these teenagers just did not progress at the same rate as their classmates. Other ‘reluctant readers’ come from homes where the primary language spoken is not English which gives them a disadvantage in most American classrooms.
The second group of teens who is highly affected by YA literature consists of teenagers who devour YA literature as a way to connect to the world. They use it to relate to a variety of topics that teenagers face: friendships, parents/family dynamics, school, peer pressure… The list could go on and on. These teenagers seek out quality YA literature to help them figure out how to deal with the world around them; therefore, the need for quality YA literature becomes more and more important.
Young Adult Literature has unique and gift-giving qualities: One of the MAGICAL qualities of YA literature is that it often encompasses topics that are of a very high interest to teenagers, so the topic or plot of a book will drive a teenager to read and finish a book. Secondly, a YA book will most likely be written in a more informal presentation than, Great Expectations, or whatever formal literature is required by the English curriculum; YA literature is not as intimidating, so ‘reluctant readers’ will automatically be more open to the concept of even trying to tackle one of those books. Finally, great YA literature (excluding Fantasy) is realistic to teenagers, and somewhere teens can find qualities they share with different characters. When they start to identify with characters or situations, readers become more invested in the text.
Many adults who do not appreciate YA literature are those who think it is somehow ‘below’ them. However, one of the most important qualities about being a teenager that most adults ignore, is that teenagers are learning HOW to become adults; therefore, they must find themselves in adult-type situations and figure out the best way to handle themselves. Sometimes the characters are successful and sometimes not, but regarding good quality YA literature, a lesson will always present itself to the reader. Adults can learn many lessons from quality YA literature—Lessons about teenagers, lessons about themselves… Being a literary snob simply robs adult readers from some excellent books.
The Misfits, by James Howe, is an example of quality YA literature. Luckily for all readers, Howe has written two companion books to, The Misfits, and this series of books has inspired a national No Name Calling Week (www.nonamecallingweek.org). The companion books must also be read and celebrated by anyone who works with teenagers. Look for articles regarding those novels in upcoming days.