You know that xkcd comic, “Someone is WRONG on the internet”? I actually don’t feel that way too often. Not because there isn’t plenty of misinformation on the internet, or a lack of opinions out there with which I disagree, but because I don’t spend most of my time looking around for things to argue with and get all bent out of shape about.
However, I followed a link from this new “Y.A. for Grownups” column, and wouldn’t you know it, SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET. Joel Stein, columnist for Time magazine, believes that “Adults Should Read Adult Books.” And ONLY adult books. And here is something that gets me bent out of all recognizable shape: someone telling me what I can’t (or shouldn’t) read. (Remember “no one ever told me no”? Or the simple fact that telling a kid – or anyone, really – s/he can’t read/do/have something is a surefire way to get them to want to read/do/have that thing with every fiber of their being?)
Maybe I’m just contrary. However, I believe there is value in YA literature for adults as well as teens. First of all, remember, most adults reading fiction are reading fiction for pleasure and entertainment, so who’s to tell them (us!) what to read or not read? Second, Stein admits he hasn’t read any of the major YA books out there now: not The Hunger Games, not Twilight, not Harry Potter. So right off the bat there’s the issue of passing judgment on something he isn’t familiar with, and only citing the biggest blockbuster names out there. Yeah, okay, he happens to be right that Twilight is not literary, but neither is Nicholas Sparks (yes, it’s pick-on-Nicholas-Sparks week here), and Stein isn’t bashing adults who read The Notebook.
But Joel Stein, I dare you, I dare you, to read Jennifer Donnelly’s A Northern Light and write it off in the same fashion. Read it and say it has no value and that adults should only read “adult” books. That we should read only the books – literary or not – aimed at our age group. (Speaking of age groups, “YA” is just the publishers’ designation for marketing purposes. There’s no strict definition, but usually the main character is a child or teenager, the book is from their point of view – first person or third limited – and it takes place in the present or recent past.)
You know what? Whatever Joel Stein thinks, I’m not embarrassed to read YA books in public. Maybe I feel like re-reading The Giver or Bridge to Terabithia or The Boggart or The Golden Compass, or maybe I feel like keeping abreast with newer YA books, like The Hunger Games or Uglies or A Fault in Our Stars – wait, how did I even get to this point in this tirade without mentioning John Green? Joel Stein, I dare you to read A Fault in Our Stars as soon as you’re done with A Northern Light.
Anyway, the point is, look: I was in middle school once, so while I won’t say I’m 100% immune to embarrassment, I am most emphatically NOT embarrassed to read YA books in public, and I’m years beyond caring what anyone else on the train thinks about it. What books make me cringe? None.*
*Fine, one: I had to read Pretty Little Liars for a YA Lit class and it was awful. I did not want to read it in public. You can have that one, Joel.