Monday, January 31, 2011

Why Young Adult Lit?

Last week, Dr. Harold Koplewicz, an adolescent psychiatrist, posted an article in The Huffington Post titled "'Hunger Games': Why Kids Love Disaster, Distress, & Dystopia" which addresses a question/concern I hear quite often about young adult books and the choices students are making. It seems to be a common theme lately with people questioning why teens are choosing and obsessing over the books or genres that are most popular or most commonly talked about. His statements share many similarities with the things I share with parents myself. Teens sometimes need a safe outlet in which to deal with their ever-changing emotions during adolescence - books can provide that safe place in which to figure out how one can or would deal with difficult situations of their own. It's called imaginative rehearsal. Adolescence is all about discovering who oneself is and what one's dreams and desires are for the future - all while dealing with the drama of the middle and high school years when living in that microcosm of a social hierarchy can make every little decision feel like it could change one's life (and sometimes it can). Sure, in the future they may look back at those years with fondness or cringe-inducing mortification, but at that time, everything seems like the most important decision ever because it truly is a time when they're expected to make choices that could impact their entire future (no pressure there!). Teens are at a time in their lives when they're experiencing massive amounts of changes, and they need to know they're not the only ones to have ever gone through that. All of this while building an identity for themselves of what kind of person they want to be for the future.

Teenagers today are living in a very different world than I experienced fifteen years ago. Technology allows immediate access to a world-wide audience and perspectives that I never would have known about when I was their age. Teens need to gain perspectives on the world outside their own little sphere of self-awareness, and to realize that there is a really big world out there where people may deal with different situations and difficulties than they themselves have in their own lives. In addition, teens may find books that help them deal with things that they can't talk to anyone about, but an author may have been able to create a character who speaks to teens and can help them in a way that no one around them could, especially during adolescence where they all feel alone at times. I think the growth in the young adult publishing world only exemplifies the fact that today's teens need access to books that help them discover their own identities, beliefs, feelings, and ideals, and the broad range of topics out there is helping build the next generation into more socially aware citizens of a 21st century global society. Ultimately, I think it comes down to one thing - if they can't grapple with these issues safely in their own heads through reading a book, how else might they choose to experience them or how will they know how they want to handle them? I'd much rather have teens reading about things that may help them to gain perspective on their world and discover ways to make better choices within the safe confines of the pages of a book. That is the true benefit of young adult literature today and why it's so important for teens to have access to a large variety of books to choose from to find the ones that speak to them and open their eyes to the "real" world (whether that be through contemporary-realistic-fiction, fantasy, science-fiction, romance, paranormal, or dystopian genres). This is why young adult literature.

So THANK YOU...
to the authors who keep writing about these topics that engage teens and help them grow,
to the aspiring writers who keep striving to get their stories heard and books published,
to the publishers who keep getting these books out there to be read,
to the bloggers who keep helping to build buzz and support the industry,
to the librarians who keep putting these books into teens' hands,
to the teachers who keep promoting YA lit trying to get students engaged in reading,
and
to all in the YA Lit community for remembering who your audience is and why these books are so important.

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