Maggie
Stiefvater

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This is Not Why YA is Important

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I just read online for the thousandth time that Young Adult literature is important because “it’s important for teens to have something of their own.” And for the first time in five years, I actually thought about that statement.

“It’s important for teens to have something of their own.”

Is it?

I actually don’t think it is. I think it’s important for teens to have something that matters.

I think I might be getting over this prevalent idea of teenhood and adulthood as separate countries, connected only by a wobbly rope-bridge that some fall off. I’m beginning to suspect that this demarcation is actually a symptom of our subtly ageist society — a consequence of America’s deeply held belief that youth is grand and foolish, age is wise but uncool.

“It’s important for teens to have something of their own.”

Why is it important for it to be only theirs? Because once adults get ahold of it, it’s no longer cool?

It strikes me more and more as a back-handed compliment.

When we laugh about something not being cool to teens as soon as adults embrace it — Facebook, Chucks, Radiohead — what we’re also saying to teens is: adulthood is many things, but cool is probably not one of them. It’s an echo of the ever-so-subtle message always encouraging us to look back fondly on our high school and college years — that fleeting time when we were young and pretty (and good for billboards) and our relationships mattered (to Hollywood) because we were young and pretty. It’s all downhill from there, says society! Get used to settling for less, kiddos, because that’s adulthood!

(here is a common compliment for women: “oh, you look so young!” — what happens when she looks old?)

When we say that YA fiction is important because it’s important for teens to have something of their own, what we’re also saying is: YA literature is only for teens, not for adults, so put that down, you random adult holding Divergent or The Book Thief or whatnot. Or at least have a damn good excuse for reading it, adult! Are you a teacher? Or remedial, maybe? If you were a real adult, you’d be reading grown up books!

(here is a common insult for a man: “oh, grow up!” — that means, irrational emotions are for children only!)

“It’s important for teens to have something of their own.”

It’s important to have books of all kinds, at all reading levels, about all genders and colors and classes of people. It’s important to have sad books and happy books, books that stick with you forever and books that you love for just an afternoon. It’s important to have books about ponies and dolphins and cancer and space travel and everything in this world.

Teenhood and adulthood aren’t separate countries at all. Once you survive puberty, you’re thrown into a nebulous time-space continuum where from moment to moment, you can be wise and foolish, old and young, profound and silly. And it lasts the rest of your life. The bridge between those two countries? It never ends.

I think the young adult section of the bookstore is important for a lot of reasons, but putting teens into their own box is not one of them.

Maggie Stiefvater
Hi, I'm Maggie Stiefvater

Professional novelist by day and artist by night. I live an eccentric life in the middle of nowhere, Virginia with my charmingly straight-laced husband, two kids, and neurotic dogs. I’m the author of the Books of Faerie (LAMENT and BALLAD); the bestselling SHIVER trilogy (SHIVER, LINGER, FOREVER), and THE SCORPIO RACES.

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