Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Stigma of a Young Adult Reader

Young Adult books are my favorite. They have pretty covers, are awesome reads, and they bring out my inner fangirl. They keep me up till three in the morning, they have me counting down the days to the newest release, and they provide me with wonderful escapism. But there is also a stigma when it comes to this category that tries its hardest to make readers of this category ashamed for loving said books. But why?

Ever been scoffed at by the guy carrying Hemmingway while you’re browsing the bookshelves at Barnes & Noble? You know what I’m talking about. He’s toting a literary classic, meanwhile you’re holding the latest young-adult paranormal romance in your hands. There’s evident condensation. He finds your reading taste to be silly, because as the standard says, “Young adult books are for kids.” You may have even been given that judgmental once-over by the cashier as you’ve taken your book up to the register. They’re thinking the same thing.

When most adult readers hear the words “Young Adult,” they immediately assume the worst. To these pretentious folk, YA is the Cartoon Network of the book world and “Adult” lit is the equivalent of HBO. Our books are the things that merely keep kids entertained, and their books are where all the substance will be found. We’re Scooby Doo, they’re Game of Thrones. It sucks, but that’s just the way things go. Again, if you’re a YA reader, you know what I’m talking about. When someone says that they just finished reading Homer’s The Iliad, and you reply, “I finished Twilight last night,” you’re bound to get looks like you just said, “I watched an episode of The Teletubbies.” Adult readers see a young adult cover, and they look down their noses at us as if we’re still reading those big cardboard children’s picture books. You know, the ones where there’s only one line of writing on each page like, “The dog barked.” (Turn page) “The dog barked louder.” Yep, that’s what they see us as. Overgrown children.

To make matters worse, it’s not particularly easy to sway someone afflicted with this mindset to see the light. I love the fact that Twilight started the tread with younger audiences to start reading again. We were admittedly trapped in a world where browsing through CliffsNotes was actually considered reading a book. Unfortunately, Twilight isn’t the greatest example of how outstanding the YA category can be, but it is still to this day the epitome of “Young Adult,” which means that’s what everybody considers every other book in this field to be, just another Twilight.

Plus, trying to verbalize what you love about a YA book without being laughed at by these people can be daunting. Let’s face it, explaining the plot to Pride & Prejudice or My Sister’s Keeper is a bit easier than trying to tell someone what a Shadowhunter is, who Downworlders are, and what runes do. Typically by discussion’s end, the other party will be gawking at you like you’re on crack.

There’s also age discrimination. When you’re a teenager reading YA, it’s perfectly acceptable. Adults are general pleased with this, because they’d rather see you with a book in yours hands than a cell phone. Apparently though, after a certain age, usually around 18-19, you’re supposed to move past your love for young-adult lit. Everyone expects you to grow up, to start reading “grownup books.” But why? Despite being plagued by condemnation by older readers, young adult books do in fact appeal to all ages. Whether you’re a teenager going through the highs and lows of adolescence right now or an adult whose already gone through the whole rigmarole, you can relate to the problems presented in YA literature. And there are so many great reads spanning from dystopian, sci-fi, paranormal, romance, fantasy, contemporary, horror, fairytale retellings, and so on. With The Hunger Games, The Mortal Instruments, The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent, and The Perks of Being A Wallflower, it’s hard not to find at least one book in the bunch that will appeal to any reader out there.

So, long story short, don’t judge a book by its cover, and don’t judge it by its category either. You just might be happily surprised by what you find inside. :-)

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