Teen Materials has been one of the drool-inducing classes I’ve been looking forward to in my program of study. One look at the class goals, including the aim of giving students a better understanding of and appreciation for young adult (YA) materials told me I would be in for an enjoyable semester. And so far it is.
The other day, instead of picking back up the beautiful coming-of-age story I should have been reading, I found myself with this thought: “Man, I just want to read a fluffy romance novel. One of the several I have checked out already, maybe.”
This reaction puzzled me at first, since this semester’s readings are full of materials that have been on my to-read list already or in a couple cases were things I already read and loved. Then a part of me wondered whether my impulse to read heteronormative romances had anything to do with this week’s focus on LGBTQ themes. But, again, back to the fundamental truth that these are titles I wanted to read already. Of course, there’s also the possibility of good old-fashioned stubbornness, that somebody making me do something is less enjoyable than doing it on my own; that one I can’t entirely rule out, but I was a pretty good English major, so I do know how to make myself buckle down and read.
Then it hit me: I’ve been reading a lot of YA literature these last couple months, between class and a city-wide library initiative for staff to read as much juvenile and YA materials as possible to improve our readers advisory in those areas. As one coworker used to joke at the end of the challenge, “I feel like I’ve come of age enough times, thank you very much.”
And there I had it: what makes YA literature so rich is also what makes it heavy sometimes–coming of age, figuring out who you are vs who you’re expected to be, railing against a world that seems and is fundamentally unfair–that’s heavy stuff. I care about (most of) the characters whose journeys I immerse myself in (I will vent no more about a certain novel rife with First-World Problems). Sometimes those journeys involve post-apocalyptic or dystopic settings. Sometimes it’s cancer. Other times, it’s navigating the waters of friendships. Or relationships. Or sexuality. Or religion. Or tough moral choices. Of course, the stories are rarely about just one of those things; after all, sometimes a story wrapped in vampire wrapping paper can really be about navigating the waters of friendships in the wake of growing up. Or a book about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse can actually be about an eating disorder.
Fundamentally, growing up is hard. Yeah, it makes for rich stories, but boy it can get heavy sometimes. While I can immerse myself in the pages and care about the characters, there’s no guarantee that things will be “Okay? Okay” for them. I’m glad for the opportunity to read such a cross-section of materials, but I think the desire for something with a pat, guaranteed happily ever after is not so amiss amidst this YA-heavy few months of reading.