As someone floating between adolescence and young adulthood, I am in no rush to outgrow my love of young adult fiction. These days, though, it feels more apt to call my enjoyment of the genre a guilty pleasure.
I regularly see authors and readers alike panning all novels with the young adult marker, calling them shallow or pandering.
One Tweet I saw years ago called young adult fiction an emblem of creative rot. I can’t help but find the majority of these criticisms patronizing and overly cynical.
Looking back on some of my favorite novels from my early teen years, I can understand critics’ dissatisfaction with some books marketed to that age group.
Now that I’m getting older, having to leave behind many teenage habits and comforts, I find it much harder to relate to 16-year-olds overthrowing kingdoms and finding their soulmates.
Shailene Woodley, star of one of the biggest young adult book-to-film adaptations, “The Fault in Our Stars,” said it best in a 2014 interview with Vulture:
“Last year, when I made ‘Fault,’ I could still empathize with adolescence,” Woodley said. “But I’m not a young adult anymore - I’m a woman.”
Admittedly, I think young adult literature is becoming much more commercialized and repetitive. This is due in part to the time between 2010 and 2015 when book-to-film franchises like “The Fault in Our Stars,” “Harry Potter,” “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight” dominated the entertainment industry.
They inspired every fledgling author to write the next big book-turned-movie blockbuster. There was a palpable shift in which young adult novels lost a lot of their originality.
The same overused dystopian, fantasy and contemporary tropes wormed their way into many of the novels I read from middle to high school - love triangles, the “chosen one” and token diversity.
This isn't to say I never read a good book in that time, as my friends and I obsessed over even the most cliché series.
Even now, pre-20th century literature is not my thing. I remain captivated by past required readings in high school by Zora Neale Hurston, Agatha Christie and the ever perplexing William Shakespeare, yet I hardly sought out classic novels outside of an academic setting.
Quite frankly, I did not want to think too hard when I read for pleasure. Books were my escape from the mundane of textbooks, homework and Sunday school. Why break out SparkNotes every time I cracked open a book?
I do try to read more challenging literature now than I did in high school - even though social media has ruined my attention span - but something I feel literature purists must come to terms with is that gatekeeping art does more harm than good.
If teens and young adults are reading in the first place, more power to them. Who cares if it's manga, romance or communist manifestos? It’s reading, exercising the mind and discovering new worlds.
Personally, I didn't hate “Heart of Darkness” because I was a brainwashed, feeble-minded 17-year-old snowflake. I hated “Heart of Darkness” because I found it confusing and mind-numbingly boring with questionable themes.
If I, an avid reader, couldn’t drag myself through Joseph Conrad’s novel, why would the kids who already struggle with reading bother to pick up a harder book on their own time if they have such negative emotions associated with classic and adult literature?
Another one of the more insulting implications of young adult criticism is the idea that teens reading young adult literature will, as “intellectually stunted” adults, grow up to write low-brow books and sully the art of fiction.
Yet, this did not stop authors like Meg Cabot, Neil Gaiman and Andy Weir from writing fanfiction about their own favorite books and finding success in the literary world.
This isn't a campaign to replace all assigned reading in schools with Rick Riordan novels. The greatest classic novelists contributed more to literature than any of us can fathom.
But perhaps instead of looking down on young adults for their tastes and the adults who write books for them, we should honor their passion and encourage the next generation of writers to keep on reading.