The Damaging Stigmas Around YA Fiction

*Trigger warnings: Mentions of eating disorders, rape, other mental illnesses and racial discrimination*

If you’re a frequent reader (or writer) of Young Adult fiction then you have most likely seen the endless stigmas around it. Young Adult is often viewed as a sort of stepping stone – a pit stop before inevitably moving on to the vast world of Adult Fiction. Contrary to this belief, there are many adults who obviously write within this genre, but there are also many adults that read it too. For example, I am twenty-two years old and I both read and write within the genre.

My reason for doing another kind of discussion post here is due to the recent article for The Guardian, written by Anthony McGowan titled Most YA Fiction Is Grown-Up in Disguise. As you can tell, it was yet another article discounting the validity of a rather important reading area. This not the first and certainly won’t be the last in a long line of obnoxious articles about an aspect someone doesn’t really understand. In 2014, Ruth Graham wrote a piece titled  Against YA in which she used the sub heading “Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children” and  (again as you can tell) she discusses how you should only read about the people of your own age as they tend to be more realistic and about “more important things.” Very recently another article surfaced about the adaptation of Jojo Moyes novel “Me Before You” in which the headline was Me before You: how to build a YA movie that rules however the problem here is that the novel is categorised as Adult Romance and the protagonist is in her late twenties making it fall outside the range it chooses to attack. A fact that is even mentioned within the actual viewpoint Owen Gleiberman lays out:

“The film’s central characters may be 26 and 31 years old, but at heart this is another squeaky clean YA tearjerker built around  a princess too good for words, another saintly love story submerged in youthful doom.”

There is a common misconception that books are written for a certain audience. Which, in this case, is not true. Young Adult fiction isn’t written for young adults, it’s written about them.  This is a point I want to stress in response to McGowan’s comment within his article where he says :

“I’d content that at least some of these books appeal to me, as an adult, because they are not teenage books at all.”

No, it means that despite these books being about teenagers, you have been able to relate and heaven forbid, actually enjoy them regardless of what your age is.

There also comes a point where these comments are very damaging not just to the genre itself, but the people who read it. There are many statistics showing that most young people stop reading in their teens and with things like this surfacing every so often it’s no surprise why many may feel discouraged. In my teens I found solace in seeing my personal problems reflected in characters in YA books. I know that many teenage bloggers also feel the same. McGowan has the nerve in his article to label YA as a “lazy, disheartening mush of false problems, fake solutions, idealised romance, second-rate fantasy, tired dystopias…” Given that there are a large amounts of books  coming out tackling various mental illnesses such as eating disorders in “paperweight” ,  anxiety in Holly’s Bourne’s “Am I Normal?” series and very serious topics such as rape in Louise O’Neill’s “Asking For It”and most recently scenes of Islamophobia in Kim Slater’s “A Seven Letter Word” I would hardly call any of these “false problems.” Just because they are happening to teenagers and you may have not gone through it at that point in your life, doesn’t in any way lessen the fact of their existence. I personally think it’s disgusting and an insult to those who may find solace seeing characters go through similar situations to themselves. By making such comments you are discounting the valid feelings of young people and in a world where there’s already so much stigma around mental illness and the lack of support out there for young people facing these things, it just makes me livid that someone could make such throw away comments in an article on The Guardian website.

I could go on and on about the reasons these things are wrong. But the only thing I will say to round this discussion up is that no one is forcing you to read YA. If you don’t like it, or you feel it has issues you can’t get past such as it being “disheartening mush” then quite simply do not read it.

 

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