I finished The Fault in Our Stars this past weekend, and it’s the first “young adult” novel I’ve read in recent history that actually feels like a young adult novel. I feel that most of the time we throw the “young adult” label on books as a marketing gimmick. We attach it to any story where the protagonist is a teenager. But when you get down to it, Divergent and Hunger Games are both dystopian trilogies. Ender’s Game is science fiction. And calling Harry Potter a “kid’s book” is like calling Star Wars a “kid’s movie.”
I also feel we have this tendency to discredit the young adult genre. I’m sure there are some people who read the paragraph above and thought that I was discrediting The Fault in Our Stars. Quite the opposite. I found it quite refreshing to find a “young adult” novel that actually feels like it was written FOR young adults, and not just given the label because of the age of the the protagonist.
Before I get into why young adult novels are important, I’m going to explain why from the perspective of a woman who remembers what it’s like to be a teenage girl. I’m not saying only teenage girls feel this way, or that they all do, but that’s the experience from which I write.
Every generation has their young adult novel. My generation had A Walk To Remember (which is admittedly way less of a good novel than The Fault in Our Stars). And if you think about it, Romeo and Juliet is really a young adult story. (Which is probably why Baz Luhrmann turned it into the very 90’s, very teen, movie in 1996.) There’s a universality to them.
The protagonist is always “other.” Some how different from her peers (and often it’s a her). This is a feeling that I think everyone remembers from being a teenager. I’d suspect even the one’s who look on high school fondly can remember feeling this way. So the protagonist is instantly relatable.
These novels are also always tragic. Let’s face it, as a teen girl EVERYTHING feels tragic. Can’t go to the mall? Tragic. Boyfriend dumps you? You’ll never find love again. Everything just feels so big.
And that is precisely why these novels are important. They help us learn to deal with tragedy. They show us life goes on. And they do it without sounding condescending, or worse, like our parents.