We’re not biased. Okay, maybe we are...just a little. But young adult literature (YA) is very special to us. So special that it inspired some of our favorite book scented candles! These are the stories that got us hooked on magic, that made history captivating, that had us consuming the catty misadventures of misled high schoolers like potato chips. And today is the day that we make our enduring love for YA novels known.
Those who exiled themselves from the young adult shelves once they hit 18 may try to fight it, but the fact remains that this genre isn’t going anywhere. It just seems to be getting larger, with bigger displays in bookstores and flashy new novels getting optioned for movies almost immediately upon publication. In 2012, Publishers Weekly revealed that over half of all YA readers were adults! We think it’s safe to bet that number has at least stayed the same, if not grown. So here’s a little insight into why YA is so popular – and why you should read it.
The Wonders of Escapism and Nostalgia
At its core, the YA genre relates to what its target demographic (readers between the ages of 12 and 18) wants. These readers are just beginning to know themselves, to figure out what they want, and to embark on their very own adventures in the real world. Harking back to the classic bildungsroman, the coming-of-age novel, YA books mirror the very journeys that young adults find themselves undertaking.
It stands to reason that older readers who pick up these books crack them open for slightly different reasons, such as looking back on their own early adult years with nostalgia. Bittersweet? Perhaps. But there’s a definite joy in looking back on your own life journey and watching fictional characters figure those same things out for themselves.
Another positive of YA books is that they’re just plain fun. They take risks, make jokes, and dive unapologetically into the love triangle that we all know is coming. Sure, some scenarios are unbelievable, but that’s part of the experience. The vast majority of YA novels remind us of the simple joy of reading, whether for an exhilarating plot, a brief escape into a magical world, or a thrilling mystery that needs solving.
Bringing the Real World Back In
While escapism is a huge part of what makes YA so appealing, the genre doesn’t limit itself to flights of fancy. YA literature is also doing the important work of drawing attention to today’s most pressing social issues, a task that even adult literature sometimes fails to tackle. Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, focused on police violence against marginalized groups, is proof that YA books can tackle timely topics and speak to very real issues facing communities.
The YA Effect on Pop Culture
From the boom in YA paranormal romance (a.k.a. when Twilight kicked off a wave of fanfiction, published works, and movies) to the steady industry of film adaptations of YA novels, this genre has contributed countless characters and innumerable moments to pop culture. In today’s fast-moving, digital world, we’d argue that it’s worth reading the latest and greatest books purely to stay up-to-date with all of those references flying around!
The movie industry, in particular, loves to draw on YA source material because these stories are written with wide appeal in mind, introducing exciting but easy-to-follow plots and relatable characters. Just look at all of the film franchises that sprang from YA books: The Hunger Games, Percy Jackson, Divergent, Twilight, Harry Potter (arguably a children’s book series at the beginning, but that’s a discussion for another post) – the list goes on and on, a veritable maelstrom of screen adaptations.
The Best Young Adult Books
If you’re just dipping your toes into the YA scene, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed. Here are some of the defining stories that we find ourselves plucking off our shelves whenever we need to satisfy that unique YA literature need.
The Fault In Our Stars
You wouldn’t expect a guy in his 30s to so perfectly capture a teenage girl’s voice, but John Green has made a career of writing realistic YA fiction for a reason. The Fault In Our Stars is perhaps his most heart wrenching, as it follows the cancer-stricken Hazel as she falls in love with a terminally ill boy. Sure, it may seem a little cheesy to older readers, but that’s why you’re here, isn’t it? To remember the incomparable flutters of first love?
Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies and the following books take the very real anxieties teens feel around puberty, body image, and friendship and make them almost too literal. As in, 16-year-olds get an operation to take them from repulsive to beautiful. In a world increasingly focused on how we present ourselves, these books stand the test of time for younger readers and adults alike.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower will give you whiplash with how well it does teen angst and coming-of-age. Told in the form of letters, the tale places you squarely back in high school in a way that opens up all the infinite possibilities of life once again. And there’s a movie, of course.
The Hunger Games
Susan Collins’ seminal trilogy kicked off a wave of post-apocalyptic YA fiction that endures today (see the Red Queen series for the subgenre’s most recent hit). It’s gritty. Dark. And proof that younger readers don’t shy away or need to be kept from the more gruesome horrors of imagination and reality.
Stephenie Meyer has gotten quite a lot of flak for her sparkly, angsty vampires, but we still have to credit her for kicking off the wave of paranormal romances and reinvigorating public appreciation for vampires and werewolves. At this point, Twilight is compulsory reading for anyone trying to understand the growth of YA literature.
Read YA With Us!
Our bookshelves are filled with their fair share of YA masterpieces, and we always check out the new release section when we hit the bookstore – who cares if we get a snooty look every now and then? We’re nowhere near outgrowing this genre. What about you? Do you love YA novels, or do you think these books are better left to younger readers? And do any of our scents make you think of a particular YA read? Let us know in the comments!