A mom at my son’s preschool drives a car with bumper stickers that say “FORKS” and “Stupid Lamb.” Yup, this thirty-something suburban stay-at-home mom is apparently a huge Twilight fan.
And while I’m not enough of a Twi-hard to put vaguely insider-ish Twilight bumper stickers on my car, I do love me some Young Adult fiction.
Don’t get me wrong, I still read a lot of regular adult fiction as well. I even like some of it. But recently I realized that the only time I get that really serious can’t-put-the-book-down, fall-in-love-with-the-characters feeling is when I read Young Adult books.
For sure, part of the appeal of YA fiction is its easy readability. The font is larger and the vocabulary is accessible. You can read an entire book in one day!
But YA fiction appeals to more than just my lazy side. What I like about YA fiction is that it’s so highly relatable. The books are designed to be relatable to young people, and since we were all young once, we can still relate to those angsty teenage emotions.
The irony is that these books that are so highly relatable often include elements of fantasy. We have no personal experience with vampire-human-werewolf love triangles, but we still understand the overwhelming feelings associated with young love. And the geeks among us would love to have two hot men vying for our attention, so reading these books gives us a bit of a vicarious thrill.
It’s not just the love stories that resonate with young and old adults alike. Many young adult novels are about rebellion against totalitarian dystopian societies, which easily serve as a metaphor for teenage rebellion against the institutions of their own (hopefully not dystopian) societies. Dystopian YA novels always start with young characters who accept the rules and conventions of their societies. These characters often say they accept the rules because the rules are there for their own good. But slowly they begin to question the rules and the powers-that-be, just as young adults began to question the customs and authorities they’ve always accepted. Katniss in The Hunger Games might display a subtle act of rebellion by hunting outside city limits; a real-life teenager might similarly rebel against parents and society by getting an unconventional haircut. Matched‘s Cassia Reyes begins to question whether the Society’s rules are really for her own good, just as real-life teens might question the beliefs of their parents or their religions.
And real-life teens relate to the consequences that the rebellious literary characters face, too. In reality, as in fiction, a choice to go against the establishment brings with it uncertainty and instability. It is the classic question of freedom versus safety. Teens get it, and since we were all teens, we get it, too.
But while these YA books are so relatable, the fantastical elements make them enough of an escape from reality that you don’t feel like you’re reading a boring book about your own dull life. YA books strike a perfect blend of mirroring real-life and providing an escape from it.
The result is that I often find myself holed up in some corner of my house reading YA fiction, just needing to read one more page. I throw together some frozen dinner instead of cooking from scratch, just so I can have more time to read. I let my son take an extra-long bath so I can sit in the corner of the bathroom and read. I read after he goes to bed, or before he gets up in the morning, or at stoplights, or wherever.
And as an old adult with a boring old adult life, I am grateful to Young Adult authors for giving me these literary experiences.