Why I YA. That’s kind of fun to say when you read it out loud. Go on. Try it. Nobody’s listening. See? Fun! Anyway.. It’s a question I’ve gotten many times. Working at a major bookstore, I am tasked with recommendations on a daily basis. Customers will always ask if I’ve read the latest bestseller by that big named author. My most common answer? “No, but I’ve heard a lot of great things about it!” Followed up by the almost apologetic, “I work in the Kids’ Department, so I mostly read that stuff.”
That stuff. I use my position as a Kids’ Lead as an excuse for why I don’t read books about people my own age. Let’s face it. I passed “Young Adult” several years ago. I was a young adult when today’s young adults were in the womb. But the truth is, I don’t just read it because the Teen section falls under my jurisdiction at work. I read it because I like it. But why?
I’ve tried to figure it out many times. Why am I stuck in this perpetual “I want to be seventeen forever” mentality? Why do I still fangirl over things like actors and TV shows? Why do I get WAY TOO EXCITED when I hear an old Backstreet Boys song on the radio? It wasn’t until I read a passage in the book “Kill the Boy Band” by Goldy Moldavsky that it really hit me.
He had no idea what he was talking about, but he was a Civil War bartender– I didn’t expect him to. He was just another adult who forgot what it was like to love something so completely. In fact, he probably only liked things ironically, which meant he didn’t really like things at all. And I may have only been a teenager, but I knew a truth that he had obviously never grasped: The joy you find as a teen, however frivolous and dumb, is pure, and meaningful. It doesn’t matter that it might ferment and taste different when you’re older. That’s the whole point of being a teenager– not worrying about the future.
— From Kill the Boyband by Goldy Moldavsky
It’s not just the joy that is pure as a teenager. It’s the love. It’s the sorrow. It’s the pleasure and the pain and the life of it all. For most of us, it’s our first experience with many of these emotions, so we feel them fully, one-hundred percent, with everything ounce of ourselves. Because we don’t know any better. But with each new experience, we learn to guard ourselves a little more. We shelter our hearts to keep them intact. We censor our thoughts to save ourselves from the barbs of ridicule. As we get older, we shutter ourselves away, wearing the mask adulthood and experience until it becomes such a part of us that we can no longer take it off. And eventually, like the Civil War bartender, we forget what it is like to love something wholly, without reservation.
Maybe I read YA to remind myself of those pure, unadulterated feelings of being a teenager. Maybe I read it to escape the guarded, bitter prison of adulthood, where every feeling comes with baggage.
Or maybe I just long for the days of near zero responsibility, where I could be frivolous and free with my time and money, not dreading the alarm clock every morning and counting my pennies until the next round of bills.
Maybe it was obsession, but it was also happiness; an escape from the suckiness of everyday life. And when you find something that makes you happy and giddy and excited every day, us fangirls know a truth that everyone else seems to have forgotten: You hold on to that joy tenaciously, for as long as you can. Because it’s rare to get excited about anything these days. Ask your parents.
— From Kill the Boy Band
If I throw myself into contemporary fiction and romance to relive all those feelings, then maybe I also lose myself in the created worlds of Teen Fantasy because I think, “Well at least I’m not dealing with that crazy dystopian society. I’ve got that going for me and my life.” Maybe I love it because those characters are always set on changing the world around them. They’ve stood up for what they believe and they’ve made their voice heard. They’ve taken down whole societies with determination and passion and hope. They’re ripe with potential and have their whole future ahead of them– a future they’ve shaped for themselves.
It could be any or all of those feelings. Maybe I’m stuck in this perpetual “seventeen forever” mentality because it’s the last time I was truly, wholly happy with life, knowing I could direct my own future. Maybe YA reminds me of what I’ve left behind.
Or maybe I just read it because it’s good.
Why do you YA?