Why do I like YA fiction?
Short answer: Pffft. Cuz it’s cool.
In high school I had a crush on a boy named Dave. He had a worn leather jacket, a seriously sexy Mohawk and …a girlfriend. So I started an intense love affair with someone else — Lois Duncan. Well, her books, anyway. Titles like Killing Mr. Griffin and Stranger with my Face formed my passion for reading. And kept me busy while Dave made out with his girlfriend.
In college, I studied writing and women’s studies and encountered some of the best voices in literature: Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Dorris Lessing and Margaret Atwood among others. Their plot came off as poetry. I could flip to any paragraph and find a sentence so wonderfully wrought it made my chest ache and my eyes prick. But while I’d long gotten over Dave, my love of Duncan didn’t diminish, even in the face of these giants. She was a giant in her own right. I would read Alice Munro for school and enjoy it. And I would read Lois Duncan, or Judy Blume or Christopher Pike for me and enjoy it.
Thing is, I’ve kept on with the YA stuff — from Meg Cabot to J.K. Rowling to Libba Bray to Cassandra Clare. I devour these novels with a hunger that I don’t have for literary fiction. Offer me a literary prize winner or a paranormal teen adventure and I’ll pick the teen adventure every time. The question is, why?
Like any other category, the quality of writing in YA is all over the board. But, for me, what good YA has is this yearning — a character’s desire to understand life, the self, the world — all while trying to deal with an over flux of hormones as well as quizzes for calculus (and sometimes a zombie or two). I’m attracted to that part of growing up where we’re almost adult, but we are still figuring things out, still have huge hopes for the future and new experiences still astonish us. Plus, I find that YA fiction doesn’t (usually) take itself too seriously. Add something otherworldly and you’ve got me. For good.
I sometimes wonder what the Dave I had a crush on in high school is doing. Has he packed away the punk attire, gotten a classic haircut and a job selling life insurance? Has he kept his leather jacket, his combat boots? Does he hide them at the back of his closet and pull them out when he’s feeling nostalgic, remembering the days when life wasn’t bills and house headaches and the occasional movie out? When having fun meant riding around in a pick-up truck with his friends, music at an ear-splitting level, and yelling, “Whoa, baby!” to girls as they passed?
Does he do any of that?
Or does he pick up a YA book and relive it all?