(I was gonna write about Pokémon Go, but I do enough of that in real life. So here’s this instead.)
“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” an older patron asked one day. “What are kids reading these days?”
What a loaded question. My first answer (and probably the one that would get me in trouble) was “Books. DUH!” I didn’t say that. I then thought, “Well, what age group? ‘Kids’ is a relative term. To me, a kid is a wee tot, someone between the age of 3-12. So, I guess, graphic novels?” I’m a librarian, I should know these things! I run the ding dang purchase orders.
“You know, my wife is a middle school librarian and she can help me out with this. Could I get back to you?” The patron agreed and walked away. I go home and talk to my wife about it. Her response:
Despite the obviousness of the answer, she’s absolutely right. And not just because I said it first. Teens and young adults read a multitude of different things. Their reading habits aren’t a box you can check off and say, “Yup, they’re all reading books about cancer patients. Cut it, print, let’s go get lunch.” Yes, a lot of what is being published is fantasy. Yes, a lot of it is about teenagers in love. Yes, a lot of it is still Harry Potter. But the range of books is wide and diverse.
Just look at the Iowa Teen Award short list for this year. The books are nominated by teens and read and reviewed by the ITA committee. This year’s list runs the whole gamut: non-fiction to dystopia, fantasy to love stories. Teens are reading what they want to read.
I’ve heard a lot of people say that they won’t read YA because it is low literature and it’s all crappy romance stories. Well, obviously, they haven’t looked at YA lit before. Of course there is some of that, just like there is in adult lit. But there are even more that hit on topics that are happening to teenagers. I think people tend to forget how pivotal and difficult those teen years can be. YA deals with a lot of heavy topics and keeps it accessible to a younger audience. Tricks by Ellen Hopkins is about teen prostitution. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell is about finding an healthy relationship when all you have to go on is an abusive one. Harry Potter is about finding yourself when everyone is expecting you to do great things. Not to mention all of the other coming-of-age stories that are abundant in YA. I guess my point with this is that teens are reading to feel like they aren’t alone.
I guess that’s why I read sometimes, too. Books can take you on a fantastical voyage to anywhere you want to go and a lot of YA is great for doing that. Teens are reading for escape from the reality they face. For some, it helps them understand the world around them. For others, it’s to try and find a peaceful moment in a world full of noise and terror. They read whatever can help them cope with whatever they may be going through.
If you haven’t picked up any YA before, I implore you to do so. It is important literature, even if some “literati” don’t think so.
You may think that I am going off the rails by telling you why you should read YA. However, it is important to understand why YA is important in regards to teen reading. YA is a diverse subject range, just like adult fiction. And, just like adult fiction, it is not just for adults. So, next time you’re at your library, stop by the Teen Section and see what they have in store. You might just find your new favorite book.