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Why Young Adult Novels Are More Powerful Than We Think

I grew up with my nose in a book. Though my obsession with reading probably started with Harry Potter, I soon began to pick up everything I could lay my hands on. I read the Twilight Saga and The Hunger Games early on, though in retrospect I look back on these protagonists and doubt the image they projected to my tween-self. Bella Swan has been criticized by many for being too docile and anti-feminist. Katniss Everdeen was conclusively bad-ass, but she, like Bella Swan, was caught in a love triangle that took away from her empowering narrative. Though young adult books are marketed towards young girls who want adventure (and swoon-worthy love interests), in retrospect I found the ones I read during my preteen years less inspiring than I once thought.

The original Twilight movie promotional poster. Image: IMDB

I decided to see what the young adult selection is like in 2018 in order to compare it to my own experience with the genre. I picked up Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, Warcross by Marie Lu, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and most recently Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi.  In these four selections (only a small portion of the current YA novels out there that are receiving praise), I found women who were strong, anxious, insecure, fearful, and powerful. In other words, they were real. Furthermore, there were no love triangles to be seen.

In both The Hate U Give and Children of Blood and Bone, a black girl is at the center of the narrative. This is incredibly empowering for the millions of young girls who had yet to see a protagonist who looked like them as well as one they could relate to. In Warcross, the narrator Emika is Chinese-American. This increase in diversity is an essential aspect of Young Adult literature that was not as present when I was reading the genre. Furthermore, many Young Adult authors are tackling anxiety and depression. In Green’s Turtles All the Way Down, Aza describes her anxiety in the first five pages. As more teens have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression than ever before, showcasing characters with mental health issues is more important than ever.

Image: MJ Franklin/Mashable

 

Young adult novels have therefore transcended their love-triangle, dystopian stereotype. Though often pushed aside as “lesser literature”, I found that reading the genre again was inspiring and profound. The characters stayed with me long after I finished the last page of each novel, and in their struggles, many other girls can find something of themselves.

 

Image courtesy of Vulture.com

 

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