1. All the cool kids are doing it. Actually, all the cool people (and probably some uncool people) are doing it. In a post-Harry Potter world, YA lit is officially trendy—and if you want in on the pop culture conversation, you’re going to have to pick up The Hunger Games or Eleanor & Park. Everyone—from your HR rep to your Great Aunt Mamie—is reading these books, talking about them, buying the merchandise, and emotionally overinvesting. If you have kids, this may be your only chance to discuss something other than Miley Cyrus. And if that’s not enough of a reason, well, here are nine more.
2. With an open-door policy, you can’t lose. YA is not a genre, no matter what the shelves of your local bookstore look like. YA is more like a giant, catch-all spiderweb with room for every genre of fiction that crosses its path—if the spider were a teenager, that is. Whether you’re into vampire romance, prep school crime fighting, or canine reincarnation, YA has you covered. For God’s sake, there are YA books set in Iowa. Iowa.
Because YA is a huge (and fast-growing) category, new releases come on the scene quicker than you can say “dystopian thriller.” But don’t worry about finding the time to embark on all these literary adventures, because …
3. You’ll make quick work of your TBR pile. Shorter texts, the present tense, and riveting, action-oriented plotlines combine to form fast, easy reads. When it comes to YA, you’re more likely to put your entire weekend on hold to finish an absorbing trilogy than you are to agonize over literary language and stationary story lines. Reading YA is a lot like hooking yourself up to an IV of accelerated entertainment—and the only hard part is overcoming your inevitable addiction.
4. Relatable characters are a guarantee. Few of us read Don Quixote and think, “Ah, now this takes me back. Remember the good old days when we roamed the Spanish countryside, dueling windmills and lions?” YA protagonists tend to be perceptive, passionate, curious, confused, and flawed. They wrestle with problems like identity and self-image, sex and romance, bullying, peer pressure, drugs, and high-stakes decision-making. Even if that’s not you today, it probably was you from the ages of thirteen to nineteen. Check your diary.
Speaking of diaries, YA is often written in the first person—a point of view that is, shall we say, familiar to teenagers. This builds a kind of reader-character intimacy that many adult-oriented books lack.
5. They’re the source material for every movie playing at your local cinema right now. OK, “every” is an exaggeration. But Hollywood is having a love affair with book-to-film adaptations at the moment, and its best-loved mistress is YA. Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, The Maze Runner, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 were all big-time blockbusters in 2014. This means, of course, that you will probably get to follow your favorite YA stories twice—crafted lovingly on paper the first time, and acted out by ridiculously good-looking people the second time.
6. YA books are a reflection of modern values. This is actually listed as part of the criteria for YA classification at Education.com: “It should consider contemporary world perspectives including cultural, social, and gender diversity; environmental issues; global politics; and international interdependence.” Most YA consciously addresses themes that are relevant to today’s readers, young and old, and there’s a continuous push for more diversity. Classics like Heart of Darkness and The Scarlet Letter may have been progressive upon initial publication, but many of them read as stuffy, obsolete, and even offensive narratives in modern times, grating on all but the most conservative thinkers.
7. There’s a good chance that your favorite YA writer is still alive, on Twitter, and coming to a bookstore near you. The only thing better than plunging inside your favorite author’s brain to immerse yourself in the exquisite fictional world it dreamed up is meeting the body attached to that brain. And even if that’s not feasible (because you live in Iowa), you still have the chance to interact with said brain on social media, where YA authors are kicking ass.
8. Good, old new-fashioned writing talent is everywhere in YA. To borrow Chuck Wendig’s words, “Some of the bravest, strangest, coolest stories right now are being told in the young adult space.” From Markus Zusak and Stephen Chbosky to Lauren Oliver and Maureen Johnson, YA writers are a kind of literary task force tackling complex teen issues with honesty and wit.
There are people who say that Young Adult books are silly, maudlin, and inferior. Those people are dumb. Don’t bother arguing with them; just hand them a copy of Code Name Verity and tell them, in all sincerity, to have a nice day. If they spend it with Elizabeth Wein, they will.
9. Nostalgia was never this good. Some of the best works of Young Adult literature are those we read in school—and many hold up strikingly, stubbornly well today. Remember The Outsiders? The Giver? Holes? The Phantom Tollbooth? YA still teaches us, still inspires us, still offers us something beautiful and relevant and meaningful. Atlantic writer Julie Beck notes that “teenage years are the time of greatest turmoil, of most radical growth. And narratives of change always resonate, even if, as adults, our own changes often happen more subtly.”
In 2013, the New York Times reported on a decade’s worth of study demonstrating the benefits of nostalgia: It combats loneliness, boredom, and anxiety. It makes us more generous and tolerant. It brings comfort, intimacy, and happiness. According to Dr. Sedikides, who pioneered research in the field, nostalgia “makes us a bit more human.” Like many innocent indulgences, classic YA only gets better with age.
10. Reality sucks. YA is our best exit strategy. Does your boss—or your mother-in-law—stop existing when you pick up The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants or This Lullaby? Do commutes retreat into the horizon? Do hunger, disease, and misery go extinct? Of course not. But an absorbing read is much like a pet monster with an appetite for your every problem and anxiety—and that monster’s name is Escapism.
YA does escapism better than almost anything else. It’s a space where taking risks always pays off, where young love lasts forever, where the far-fetched is mundane. It’s a parallel universe in which endings are, if not happy, then satisfying. In the real world, where we eventually outgrow our idealistic notions and every ending is bittersweet, it’s easy to confuse cynicism with wisdom. Among our most valuable exercises, perhaps, is the suspension of disbelief—and the flight of imagination that comes with it.