You know the feeling you get when you’re entrenched in a good book? Like you’re there with the characters, brandishing your wand at a noseless wizard or toppling a totalitarian government with two boys pining for your love? I do.
My life is not exactly the definition of excitement. I wake up, drag myself to school, practically tape my eyelids to keep them open all day, drag myself home, do homework, sleep. I don’t have a closet that leads to a magical land filled with lions and ice queens. I can’t even cross the railroad tracks, nevermind jump off a train to prove my courage and valiance. And I’m definitely not the Mother of Dragons or a demon hunter trained in six different martial arts.
… Or am I?
I believe in young adult literature. In 300 pages, I can live another life. There are adventures to embark on, monsters to be slayed, boys to be kissed, victories to be won. It’s a portable world, tucked under my pillow each night or stowed in my bag for long car rides. I throw books at the wall in frustration, then pick them back up and apologize to the spines like they have feelings. I root for my ships and resist the urge to bash rival ones. Fandoms are created, tenacious alliances competing for the title of best series ever, led by warriors known as “fangirls” who will ruthlessly denounce anyone who dares criticize their fandom.
Well, maybe that’s a little bit extreme. But YA does bring people together, people who may lead very different everyday lives and would normally never interact. It’s an instant friend-maker – “Oh, you like that book too?” – and it unites people. That’s the power of literature.
“But wait! YA isn’t real literature.” I hear that a lot, mostly from purists who believe anything not written by Hemingway or Dickens or Shakespeare is somehow less “valid.” As if these authors had some sort of literary Midas touch, and without it, a book isn’t “real.” Sometimes, YA is denounced as silly and simplistic stuff for teens who can’t comprehend complex “adult” literature.
Granted, there are a lot of clichéd tropes and poorly written love triangles, and a few too many glittery vampires. But YA has taught me a lot of lessons about myself. That the circumstances of my birth don’t define me, that my future isn’t set in stone, and that my life is the product of my own choices. There are complex moral themes raised that question humanity. Is one life worth more than another? Would I trade my individuality for security? Through these books, I’ve come to learn a little bit more about myself and who I want to be. It gives me something to hold onto, to lose myself in. I know my Hogwarts house but not my blood type. I can rattle off Greek gods like nobody’s business. Okay isn’t just a word for me anymore, and I’m still searching for my own infinity.
YA makes me laugh and cry and swoon and seethe. YA lets me live.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.