There are few genres as binge-worthy as Young Adult fiction. It’s a good thing that these novels tend to be 300+ pages, and often come in a series, because it is entirely too possible to fly through one of them in a single sitting. One of the first YA series I remember reading is Scott Westerfields’s Uglies series followed closely by Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments. There were others of course, but these two series are some of the first ones I remember fully captivating me in every sense of the word.
I remember being in class or at soccer practice counting down the minutes until I could get back to my book and re-enter a world where exciting things happened to seemingly regular people. The writing was straightforward and fast paced in a way that often left me feeling like I was watching a movie in my head rather than reading words on a page. As someone with an active imagination and a propensity towards vivid dreams, the plot lines and characters would easily make their way into my subconscious most nights. I basically got entire reels of “deleted scenes”, and sometimes I would even get to be in them!
Which brings me to my next nostalgic musing on YA lit – the romance. Oh my god the dreamy boys these authors created seemed like they were crafted specifically for my naive little 14-year-old heart*.
*[DISCLAIMER: I’m not gonna touch on all the problematic aspects associated with YA romances – the gender stereotyping, the heteronormativity, the girl who isn’t a fully realized character until she meets a mysterious complex boy – all of these are legitimate issues, among others, that are far too prevalent throughout a lot of YA books, but this post is a lighthearted “remember when” kind of post and therefore I’m gonna have to delegate those issues to another post or maybe even someone else’s analysis of the entire genre; someone much more qualified and well-read than I on the topic.]
The boys I met in these books were unlike any of the boys I had met in real life. They were dangerous, and sexy. They were confident and knew what they were doing, but they were also caring and protective and would do anything and everything for the girl they loved. Obviously teen girls (&boys) everywhere hoped against all hope that one day some mysterious new kid would show up at their high school and immediately fall for them, ignoring all other girls because they were “all the same”. [Good time to refer back the disclaimer above, but again, were suspending rationality for the sake of the memories]. As frustrating as it can be, falling in love with fictional characters is one of my favorite pastimes – what’s up, Tim Riggins? 😉 – and it’s also kind of the best. You get to imagine this person doing or saying whatever you want, because they’re not real and they can’t stop you! I’d say the only thing better than the romantic interest in YA books is the badass female protagonist.
Looking back, I like to think this is what drew me to YA books the most. I wanted to be the multi-dimensional girl that didn’t fit in and didn’t care that she didn’t. I wanted to be John Green’s Alaska Young, making boys fall in love with her unintentionally while she does her own thing and breaks all the molds. These girls always seemed to have one-of-a-kind names, like Alaska or Lavender, and some striking feature like jet black hair or piercing green eyes. I probably equal parts wanted to be them and know everything about them. I wanted to hang out with them and talk about books and go on walks through the woods and go to diners together at midnight. I like to think that my infatuation with these fictional girls helped me realize that it’s always better to be different and do your own thing than to pretend to be interested in what everyone else is interested in if you’re just not that into it. If anything, they at least gave me an appreciation for specific character quirks that carry over into the real world – the little things that you only get to know about someone if they decide to let you see them.
I recently picked up Mindy McGinnis’s This Darkness Mind, a random choice from a “new release” section of YA lit on Goodreads. I wanted to 1) see if YA lit has changed since I last read any which would’ve been about 5 years ago 2) if I could still read them as quickly as I used to and 3) if they still made me feel like I was watching a movie in my head, cast entirely for me, by me.
While I didn’t entirely love the book (I’ll do a book review post on it sometime next week) I was pleased to see that the genre, or at least this one example of the genre, seems to be much more self-aware when it comes to the usual downfalls of YA lit. McGinnnis offers up a female protagonist who may fall for a “mysterious bad boy”, but even though her heart stops for this boy, she isn’t about to let herself respond “How high?” when he says “Jump.” Instead, she’d rather ignore him entirely or fire back something sarcastic or snarky.
As for numbers 2 and 3, the answers were both a resounding yes, telling me I need to make some room on my TBR list for some more YA lit in the near future.
Anybody have any recent favorites to recommend?
As always, thanks for reading! Sorry it was such a long one, but hey at least I included some pictures, right?