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Courtesy of JK Rowling and Stephanie Meyer

March 6, 2020

GUEST ROOM | Why Young Adult Fiction Matters

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Cliché romances, badass teenagers, magic and rebellions are what usually come to mind when one thinks of Young Adult fiction books. YA has recently taken the world by storm, creating a lucrative industry within the publishing world. While the YA genre is a relatively new invention, having picked up speed in the late 2000s, more and more books are being published each year and countless movies and TV shows (of varying quality) have been made based off of these stories. What makes YA such a successful genre? And most importantly, why is it not just reserved for teenagers?

While coming-of-age stories have been popular throughout history, many consider J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, first published in 1997, to be the beginning of the YA genre. Over the span of its seven book lifetime, Harry Potter grew progressively more mature, appealing to older audiences and diving into deeper themes of friendship, power and the significance of our mortality. More than 20 years after its publication, Harry Potter has still managed to  have a considerable impact on the literary world, kickstarting the success of the YA genre.

Dystopian books such as Twilight by Stephenie Meyer and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and contemporary romance books including John Green’s The Fault in our Stars established the popularity of YA. These books helped create the YA industry and the movies subsequently made based on them expanded the fanbase from solely readers to a wider popular culture. The universal appeal of a heroic story combined with the entertaining readability and deeper messages of YA makes it a thriving genre.

The various subsets of YA span from romance and realistic-fiction to high fantasy to dystopian, yet all explore themes relevant to our modern society and readers of all ages. While the writing style is not always eloquent, YA books serve to address important, thought-provoking problems and explore how they would play out through captivating plots and detailed character arcs.

Young Adult books are more than just fluffy reading with a shallow plot. Science-fiction and dystopian books dive into the possible implications and problems of modern technology, forcing readers to reexamine our world and imagine the possibilities for a better future. Fantasy books test the limits of our imaginations and develop unique characters, using the supernatural or magical to comment on and mirror the problems and goals of our world. Realistic fiction books such as The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, address important issues of racism in our society through the eyes of young adults directly affected by it.

The detailed character development characteristic of the coming-of-age themes central to the YA genre reflects a story which everyone has gone through in their life. Often, protagonists’ character arcs not only see them mature but facilitate their triumph over adversity. However, just because these stories star teenagers and young adults does not mean that they cannot be applied to people in all stages of life. We are all constantly changing and evolving; the theme of personal growth repeated across YA novels highlights that growth through experiences and relationships is an important part of life that makes us all better people.

YA is not to be underestimated and dismissed. Its overarching themes can relate to every reader, revealing the importance of friendships and relationships, problems in our society and its future, and at its core a message about personal growth. So, next time you see a book advertised as Young Adult, whether online or in the bookstore, give it a second chance. Who knows? Maybe you’ll become YA’s next fan.

Emma Leynse is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at eal257@cornell.edu.