Why YA Lit Matters to Everyone (The Best of Book Riot)

Much of the good ship Book Riot is off at Book Expo America this week, so we’re running some of our best stuff from the first half of 2013. We’ll be back with reports from BEA next week and our usual array of new book-nerdery.
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speak laurie halse andersonYoung adult literature gets a bad rap because of the immense, insane popularity of certain titles that book snobs around the globe (including myself, sometimes) deem less-than-worthy of a Serious Reader’s attention. Twilight, The Hunger Games, and even much-beloved, less-scoffed-at Harry Potter often earn adult fans a bit of classic side-eye when we’re spotted reading them. I’m no Twilight fan because from a feminist standpoint I find it extremely problematic, but I’m not going to bother judging you (any more) if that’s how you decide to get it on with literature. Beloved books lead us to other beloved books, and beloved books are the greatest comfort there is; Twilight draws inspiration from some great classics that I know many Bella fans have since picked up and loved. But I’ve digressed.

Even I, one of its biggest proponents, get frustrated with YA lit from time to time. Among my complaints: not enough standalone novels; too many love triangles; an overabundance of manic pixie dream girls; too much dystopia. But then, there are the gems. There are the writers who aren’t afraid to tackle hard topics, sticky ones, misunderstood ones and the books that you just can’t stop thinking about for days, weeks, or years after reading them.

A melancholic person by nature, I am drawn to these books: the ones that hit closest to my painful spots, the bruises on my psyche or ego that go back to the time when I was their target audience, the books that personalize the painful spots in our history on a small or large scale, the ones that explore the problems of our present culture.

These are the five-star books that I recommend to people who are interested in the so-called tough topics everyone finds difficult to talk honestly about, the people I just know would love this kind of YA as much as I do if they gave the less mainstream, less hyped, (mostly) non-movie adapted titles a go. They are novels that trigger strong responses and provide insight into oft-misunderstood or overlooked modern experiences, or a fresh perspective on well-trod historical territory. Generally, I consider it a shame that they’re stuck with the YA designation because of how it limits them.

(Note: While this post doesn’t necessarily require a trigger warning, I trust you to know your limits and read what you’re comfortable with in relation to your own life experiences.)

Date Rape & Rape Culture
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (Bonus Twilight tie-in: The movie adaptation stars Kristen Stewart.)
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Feminism
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

History
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Realistic Girl Friendships
The Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray
The Diviners by Libba Bray
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Eating Disorders
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Sadness is important. I don’t encourage wallowing by any means (okay, maybe sometimes I do), but I do believe that what makes us feel bad helps us understand ourselves better if we’ll just look at it a little more closely instead of brushing it aside or refusing to read it. Even—or perhaps especially—bad feelings teach us things we need to know, and crushingly depressing books provide opportunities to practice empathy, that quality so essential to being a decent human being.  That’s why fiction is so necessary: it’s a safe space to feel feelings and reflect on them, like therapy, only more interesting. So why does YA lit matter to you? Because it just might make you a better person.

Share your recommendations, in these categories or others, in the comments.

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