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In Defense of YA Lit

by on July 11, 2014

With the recent wildly successful film releases of The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent, it’s more than a fair assumption to say that YA literature is experiencing something of a renaissance. What barely existed as a separate genre fifteen or twenty years ago is now everywhere, from popular TV shows like Vampire Diaries to Hot Topic merchandise emblazoned with Veronica Roth’s Divergent factions. YA lit is everywhere, and it seems like everyone is reading it. When I attended this year’s PLA conference, two of the best-attended author events involved YA royalty John Green and Rainbow Rowell, and these audiences were comprised of grown-up librarians.

Perhaps this is why Ruth Graham’s recent Slate article “Against YA” has caused an uproar across nearly every library communication channel I follow. Graham’s thesis is simple: adults should be embarrassed to read YA lit. Simply put, it’s not literary enough. Its endings tie up too neatly, and it’s too melodramatic. It takes away from our ability to appreciate “real” literature.

While I have to read a great deal of YA for my job as a youth services librarian, I also choose to read this genre because I enjoy it; however, I enjoy Hemingway, Austen, and Shakespeare too. I enjoyed Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,which I read as an adult, as fully as I enjoyed The Grapes of Wrath. They’re different, and there’s nothing wrong with liking both. Both resonated with me in a way that I can still feel years after reading their final pages.

My first reaction upon reading Graham’s article was that I find it tough to argue that reading Danielle Steel— an author obviously targeted towards adults—is better than reading any author with a Printz award tied to his or her name. Then I realized it’s not our job as librarians to quantify one author or genre as better than another. It’s all about what is better for the patron standing in front of us.

We can debate endlessly over why so many of today’s adults like reading YA lit. Is it a form of escapism? Is it a dumbing down of our culture? Is it the Hollywood effect? At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. What matters is serving our patrons without judgment, without a sense of superiority if their literary tastes do not match our own. As librarians, we are here to provide access to information and entertainment. My very own library’s mission is to “educate, empower, enlighten, enrich, enhance, and entertain” our customer base. To make broad and sweeping generalizations that one type of book is better than another is not doing anyone any favors.

Presumably Graham is not a librarian, but her article is a strong reminder that such generalizations exist among the public. We mustn’t perpetuate them. It is our duty to match our patrons with the type of books they’re looking for, regardless of whether their choices are “mature” or not. I personally am not a fan of fantasy, but I will wholeheartedly recommend books and authors in that genre to patrons who enjoy it. It’s not my place to judge, just as it was not Graham’s place to condemn an entire segment of readers. Frustrating as her ideology may be, we have the power to change the public’s minds and show them how rewarding YA lit—or any genre—can be, one reader at a time.

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