I have not always been a YA reader. Even when I was considered a “young adult,” I did not read much of the genre. When I did read it, it was always contemporary (Sarah Dessen was my jam). When I decided to start reading more books again, I was 27 and didn’t even consider YA as a genre to focus on. I stuck to what I know and loved which was adult contemporary and mystery/thrillers.
When I joined my “real life” book club in 2018, many of the members were primarily YA readers. I will admit that I had some preconceived notions about why grown women enjoyed that genre so much. I didn’t understand. But I wanted to keep an open mind. My friend and I went to the bookstore one day, and she convinced be to try some contemporary YA. I started off with Looking for Alaska and Everything Everything. Unfortunately, I was not super impressed. I really didn’t like Looking for Alaska. I wasn’t going to snub YA completely though. When our book club picked the first book since I joined, it was a YA fantasy book. It was also my very first ever YA fantasy. It was Children of Blood and Bone.
I kept a positive attitude about it and even though I never read anything like it, I really enjoyed it. It kept me intrigued. I finished it in less than a week! I gave it 4 stars. I was proud of myself for giving it a chance. Then, the next month, the book chosen was another YA fantasy novel called Poison Princess. Initially, I was skeptical. But the book changed pace and I WAS IN LOVE. I picked up every book in The Arcana Chronicles and finished all 5 books before the next book club meeting. That is when I really started seeking out more YA fantasy.
Fast forward a year later, and I own a plethora of YA fantasy books and a few YA contemporaries. I have also joined the online book community (mostly) via Twitter. With that, comes conversations amongst actual young adults and other YA genre lovers. I see a lot of conversation about how teen characters should be presented, whether or not sex needs to be a part of YA stories, the cry for more college experience, the desire for less college experience, the opinion that high school love shouldn’t be presented as a reality, or that it should because it does happen etc. etc.** Some people want this and some people want that. It is impossible to please every single YA reader. But it does seem that most people are looking for books that relate to their own life experiences. I get it. When I read books that involve the chaos of motherhood, I AM THERE FOR IT. But I actually don’t seek out those books.
I’m not saying that the people who do enjoy reading relatable stories are wrong, I am just saying that for me personally, I am not hoping someone writes a book about a 19 year old girl who falls in love with the male nurse who treated her at the ER (because that did happen). I like to be taken out of my world when I read.
So perhaps this is why as an adult, I enjoy YA fantasy. I don’t go into the books expecting to connect to the characters on an emotional level. Not just because they are early 20’s or in their teens, but because they are in a fantasy world where normal decision making skills that teenagers have in our world/reality, don’t crossover to their world. Fantasy worlds usually depict corrupt governments, mythological creatures, and the threat of death at every turn. So to say that these characters are having to make the same decisions as “real” teenagers in our world, would be wrong. I’m sure you can find metaphors and analogies all day in the themes of YA fantasy, but for the most part, those characters are raised in a world that forces them to be more mature and grown up. I have also realized that often times, I end up finding emotional connections to characters all the time! But it’s not an expectation.
This is also perhaps the reason why I don’t enjoy most YA contemporary. Since becoming an “old adult” (you know, instead of being a young adult), I don’t relate to those very real every day struggles any longer. Like I said, with YA fantasy, a lot of their problems aren’t based in reality, but I can relate to the emotion of facing those daunting troubles. I just don’t enjoy reading about the stress of high school or passing college entrance exams. I can’t find a connection with those characters even if 18 year old me could have related to it. I am not saying this as a blanket statement. There have been YA contemporary books that I’ve enjoyed as an adult and I try to stay open to recomendations. But I don’t find myself picking YA contemporary to read on a regular basis.
I suppose my point is that I don’t have to connect to a character’s experiences to enjoy the story. I encourage everyone to open up their minds about new genres and see how you like it. I tried YA fantasy and now love it. I tried YA contemporary and feel “meh” about it. In the end, thats ok. Like what you like, and read what you love. Its ok to make your reading taste a journey!
**Please note I am not talking about representation of gender, sexuality, or race. Those are given areas of representation that should be in all books.