What is a Young Adult novel? To me, it’s a literary classification that suggests a certain level of maturity, but not enough for grown men and women to be able to appreciate. They target a specific demographic, usually between the ages of twelve and eighteen, and therefore may touch upon complex themes, but refuse to explore them with more than a cursory, superficial glance. They’re far from challenging reads, employing very little literary devices, and usually consist of simple, one-dimensional characters that can be easily understood. As you may be able to tell, I’m not a fan of the YA genre, but even if you were to disagree with all of my criticisms, you can’t deny that they all follow the same formula.
What may that formula be? I’ll tell you: Love triangle + Underdog + Anti-authoritarianism + Pseudo-intellectualism. Name a YA novel, and I guarantee you that you will find at least one of these elements. Before you get irrationally furious with me because I stated an opinion that differed from yours, let me stress that I’m not one of those people who thinks that YA fiction isn’t “real” fiction. If you read Young Adult novels, good for you, I won’t deny you your right to read whatever resonates with you. My criticisms are with how mathematical the vast majority of them have become, how paint-by-numbers they appear. And I think I know why: it’s because kids are underestimated.
To elaborate, The Catcher in the Rye is a Young Adult book, and I spent two whole weeks of my Junior year I college analyzing Holden Caulfield, who’s regarded as the most important character in 20th-century literature. His tale of self-discovery and alienation has resonated with millions of adolescents throughout the years, accomplishing the goal of the YA novel without resorting to the treasure trove of cliches that so many authors have utilized. It’s a story that doesn’t treat kids like they’re idiots, proving deep, insightful commentary on grief and suicide and teaching them that sometimes it’s okay not to be okay.
So what do we do about it? We demand more from our art because creatin something intended for a younger audience shouldn’t be an excuse for it to be of poor quality.