If you’re a twenty-something, I probably don’t have to tell you how regularly “we feel happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time.” And even if you’re a recent, or not-so-recent, graduate of the twenties era, everyone can remember at least ten moments in that time that reaffirmed, or changed, everything. Hey, it’s not called your rollicking twenties for nothing.
And if there is one genre of books out there that amazingly captures what your twenties is really all about, it’s Young Adult.
Let’s start with the obvious: because we are young adults. We’re “grown-ups” now, supposedly, but we are very, very new at this. It sometimes feels like that age-old nightmare where we’ve been thrust onto a stage as part of an ensemble cast and we kind of don’t really know any of the dance moves?! And guess what: the protagonists of YA fiction are always in the same spot. It starts with a young person who hasn’t really been faced with a wide plethora of choice before suddenly being told they have to make all of the decisions, from what they’re going to eat for three(ish) meals a day to how exactly they’re going to better the planet they live on (Hi, Cinder & Kai. Or Kestrel). Or sometimes it starts with the young person who thought they knew exactly what was expected of them and their entire life suddenly realizing that everything is so much bigger than they thought (I’m looking at you, Katniss. And Day). It starts with a young person realizing that when you start doing things on your own life rarely follows the script you had in mind (like with Cath, or Aristotle).
Second: we’re learning to get over the “Special Snowflake” Syndrome. Kelly Williams Brown first coined this term in her blog/book Adulting, and it sticks because it’s true. We are realizing for the first time that we are not, in fact, the Chosen Ones. But you know what’s great about Young Adult? It’s chock FULL of “Chosen Ones.” From Percy Jackson to Celaena Sardothien to Mara Dyer to Cassie Hobbes, YA books are all about what it’s like to be a Special Snowflake that sometimes people literally can’t live without. And yes, I know, at first that seems very contradictory to the direction twenty-somethings should be moving in. But what are books for if not for vicariously living out our wildest fantasy, before quietly putting said fantasy on the shelf with your imaginary friends? Or, in the case of many characters like Ruby from The Darkest Minds trilogy, being kind of glad that we are not, in fact, Diamonds in the Rough after all because the responsibility of that might actually be the death of you.
Also, we twenty-somethings, we are cautious experimenters. I’ve read that we should say “yes” to basically anything because how else will we get experience and learn? But then we’re also often regaled with the dangers of living and taking risks on one’s own, so the message then becomes “Say yes…when you’re ABSOLUTELY SURE.” The sheer open-endedness of YA literature is pretty damn perfect for this “yes, but…” response that’s on the tip of our tongues. Because, let’s be real for a second. Genres and labeling books are a tricky business, and YA is possibly the trickiest of them all (in fact, I’m of the belief that YA should not be labeled as such all together, but that’s a post for another day). As far as I can tell, apart from the unwritten no-graphic-intimacy rule, the only true requirement for a book to be considered YA is that the protagonist(s) must be somewhere between the ages of 13 – 19. That’s it. Otherwise, anything can happen. Really, anything. Which means we can experience every gamut of every emotion, feel and think our way through practically any experience that’s possibly ever been thought of, from the death of a precious loved one to sparking a revolution to exploring the universe with a person who’s becoming the most precious of all to living in a society where everybody is forced to make masks, and leave that “but” behind.
But like with everything else in our lives, if you’re a twenty-something, you have to do one crucial thing first: You have to say, “Yes.”