Keeping on the trend of reading habit posts inspired by conversations, I wanted to discuss the value of YA fiction. Mainstream YA can get a lot of flack in conservative Christian circles, and for good reason. It’s often shallow, riddled with unnecessarily mature content, and contains little moral value for a young reader looking toward literature for characters to look up to, or even to gain a greater appreciation for the craft of writing. However, I still read YA and I still think that mainstream young adult novels—even those less solid books—have value of a non-literary variety. Here’s why.
(Note that this post is mainly written with fellow young adult readers in mind, but I believe these points are good to think about regardless of age.)
YA Helps Us Connect with Fellow Teens
This point is really twofold. For one thing, books are a great relationship starter. Finding someone who likes the same books as you is always super fun, and it gives you something you can instantly bond over. Since YA fiction is fairly common among… young adults, it makes it easier to connect with other teens over books if you’ve read those same books. The flip side of this is that you might not want to connect over mainstream YA, depending on the book. While some YA fiction is worth connecting over—personally, I’d put The Hunger Games*, The Fault In Our Stars* (despite some mature content), and The Lunar Chronicles* under this category—others are simply too shallow or too filled with unnecessary content (whether swearing, sex, violence, drug use, etc.) for a Christian to appreciate in good conscience. Where exactly that line falls will depend on the individual reader.
As a second point, mainstream YA reveals the heart and thought process of the bulk of the teenagers around us. This enables us to better understand and empathize with those around us, whether friends or acquaintances. Reading fiction, in general, has been shown to improve empathy (though it could be argued that the majority of YA fiction doesn’t have the literary depth that is linked to a large portion of this improvement, depending on the reader’s skill), and YA specifically provides a window into the mind of the average teenager.
*These are BookShop affiliate links, which means if you buy through them I earn a commission at no extra cost to you. And BookShop is awesome because they support local independent bookstores in the U.S.!
YA Gives a Glimpse Into Current Youth Culture
Mainstream YA not only gives us a peek into the minds of other teenagers, but also the culture they live in. As a homeschooled teenager who grew up in the church and, due to family health issues, hasn’t had a lot of opportunity thus far to be around people who are not also homeschooled Christians, I’ve tried to use fiction (as much as it can be used) to gain a better understanding of the culture that mainstream teenagers experience. Obviously, fiction isn’t going to provide a completely realistic picture of what life is like (whether it’s the life of an average teenager, or a 90-year-old grandmother, or a homeschool student), but it’s given me both a greater appreciation for my public schooled friends and a greater appreciation for my homeschooled, “sheltered” youth.
Particularly as someone who cares a lot about connecting with people and understanding their worldview and struggles, and as someone looking to go into youth ministry one day, I appreciate the insight that fiction provides, such as it is.
YA Provides Opportunities for Discernment and Discussion
I have a 13-year-old sister, and I would never be comfortable leaving her in the YA section on her own. While I’ve been blessed to mostly pick the good apples of the category, I’ve seen enough of the slightly-bad and heard enough about the really bad to be wary. I wish this wasn’t the case (and I’ll talk more about that, and what I wish we’d see in YA more often, in a post in a couple of weeks). However, these “bad apples” can still have value for practicing discernment and prompting discussions. I’ve had several discussions about the prevalence of mature relationships in YA, the reasons for YA’s frequent lack of substance, and the skewed worldviews in certain books; which have helped me better understand the culture we live in and also helped me solidify my own worldview, why I believe what I believe, and why I write what I write.
YA fiction is also generally a very different literary style from most other fiction, with usually a simpler and more straightforward voice than, say, adult fantasy. Exposure to this style can be a good way to expand your knowledge of prosaic varieties (and the pros and cons of various writing styles) and can also provide a greater appreciation for more complex literature due to the differences between the two tones of writing. Thus, through reading YA, you can also gain a greater understanding of the writing craft and how to use voice and tone to achieve the style you’re going for with your work.
Your turn! What are your thoughts on mainstream YA? Are these points you’d considered? Do you disagree on any points I raised? I’d love to discuss with you in the comments!