In defense of YA literature: teenage experiences are valuable, too

Julia Harmsworth

A lot of people put down Young Adult (YA) literature. Not only is it considered less valuable than other literary genres by the academic English community, but the general public often frowns upon readers of the genre who lie outside of its targeted age demographic. It’s labelled unrealistic, inconsequential, and just plain cheesy.

I’m here to set the record straight: YA is worth the read. It’s a legitimate, meaningful genre undeserving of the flack it receives.

Yes, there are a lot of really bad YA books. But there are also a lot of really bad fiction books, fantasy books, sci-fi books, and any other genre you can think of.  The world is full of bad literature; it’s unfair and untrue to claim this is a unique quality of YA.

Generalizing all of YA as bad condemns an entire genre and discredits all the well-written works of YA literature that exist. So many people miss out on great books because of the taboo behind the YA name.

I can think of Normal People, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, or An Absolutely Remarkable Thing,to name a few. All these books tackle real, important themes, all within the bounds of YA.

There’s also an argument to be made for brainless entertainment. Everyone needs a healthy dose of escapism every once in a while—why is it okay to turn to Netflix, but not to Sarah J. Maas or Cassandra Clare?

Yes, YA is incredibly accessible—that’s a good thing. It’s not super difficult to read, and while some use this as a weapon against the genre, I see it as a valuable quality.

YA is the gateway drug to a world of literature. People can use it as a stepping stone to other genres, or they can stay within it—that’s completely okay. In any case, they’re reading something, and that’s what matters.

I think part of the reason YA gets a bad rap is that teenagers—teenage thoughts, teenage problems, and teenage readers—aren’t valued. The defining features of YA are teenage characters and a focus on issues central to them: identity; family; and other coming-of-age topics.

Coming-of-age stories are interesting, relevant, and important. They give young adults a place to see themselves and their own issues and provide a way for older adults to empathize with them. This is what make classics like The Perks of Being a Wallflower and even The Catcher in the Rye—yes, those are YA—so meaningful. 

We ought to listen to teenagers more often. Perhaps we ought to read about them more often, too.

Julia is a second-year English student and one of The Journal’s Assistant News Editors.


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