Young Adult and the World of Reading
YA made a comeback in my world recently, with Rick Riordan announcing a possible Disney adaptation of the Percy Jackson series and Anthony Horrowitz announcing a new Alex Rider book. Neither of these align with my current interests, but they do strike my nostalgia chord pretty damn well, and that leads me to what I’m going to talk about today: young adult novels and the role of the genre as a whole.
YA is what drew most people into the world of books — it certainly did for me. My first were probably the Famous Five and Secret Seven series, with their quite frankly absurdly dangerous adventures and elaborate meal spreads greeting them everywhere they went. Harry Potter, I think was the next series I picked up, and I practically grew up with it, making friends and fighting battles alongside the trio. Percy Jackson and its spin-offs followed, and suddenly nothing seemed to matter more than taking down a threat that the gods really could have handled by themselves. Then came Alex Rider, and the story of a teenager doing an entire country’s job for them, brandished only with his wits, curiosity, and a few cleverly concealed weapons. I’m not sure if it’s official or not, but I’ve always thought of Alex Rider as a young James Bond archetype; made reading it a bit more exciting.
I think the main appeal behind YA is that kids can project themselves onto the characters. Most characters are 11–13-year-olds, some even younger, so almost everyone who’s just beginning to read can see themselves in the story, living a life much larger and much more exciting than their own. This is not an escape, no. They’re kids; they (hopefully) have nothing to escape from. It’s more just a chance to experience worlds they couldn’t possibly be a part of otherwise. A chance to matter to more than just their small sphere of influence and go save the entire freaking world.
That’s what drew me in. That’s what drew everyone in.
But it’s also what eventually dissuades people from reading. You see, there are two kinds of people when it comes to books: those who stuck with them and those who rediscovered them. If, like me, you’ve stuck with reading, your taste would have likely evolved. You probably wouldn’t have realised the change consciously though. I realised that YA was no longer my thing when the first book in the Trials of Apollo series, The Hidden Oracle, felt like a drag, instead of providing me with the usual rush that a Rick Riordan book would. Sadly, I didn’t end up finishing that series or the Magnus Chase one either (I gave it one last shot when its first book came out).
People from this first category would have recognised this change in preferences and switched to new genres and new writers, discovering new tropes and little things to coo about. The other group though, the ones that rediscovered them, would very likely have tried going back to YA. After all, if they were the reason they initially loved to read, why wouldn’t they produce the same feeling today?
Books are like movies or shows. Ben 10 wouldn’t be as fun for you today as it was seven or eight years ago so why should Percy Jackson?
And that’s why I think YA is absolutely fantastic, but also a little bit of a problem.
So, here’s my recommendation to anyone who’s trying to rediscover reading: pick a new genre. Start off with a good ol’ whodunnit if you’re not sure — Agatha Christie, maybe — and then ask for recommendations. Ask a friend who reads, ask your librarian, go online, check out Goodreads. There are tons of options. But just pick up a book and see it through. I promise you’ll feel like a ten-year-old again.
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