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What Young Adult Fiction Means to Me, a Young POC

Through the years of my childhood and adolescence, young adult (YA) literature has always been of paramount importance to my life. Whether it be concealed beneath school desks, buried in the sheets illuminated by the flashlight of my iPod or on the living room floor from morning to night, I could be found lost reading and rereading for more times than not stories of dystopian futures and young female protagonists. Protagonists and stories I could see myself in had my younger self completely engrossed. YA ignited in me what I hope will be a lifelong love of reading for pleasure, an assertion I’m sure many can relate to. 

YA has been able to flourish as a result of its audience, new and old teenagers, being a perfect combination of two important features of frequent readers: complex reading ability and ample downtime to spend reading. Further, the all-encompassing term of “young adult” houses an endless number of sub-genres, ranging from sci-fi to contemporary, that appeal to audiences of all interests. Readers of the genre aren’t limited to the teenage years by any means一 the incredible plotlines and fan culture appeal to adults, as well, who make up 55% of YA readers in total. The genre’s rise to popularity has been marked, seeing a 112% increase in YA books published between 2002 and 2012

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Photo by Fabiola Peñalba from Unsplash

The genre’s intense popularity is not without reason. Both the emotional depth of conflicts of any degree (saving the world to learning to love oneself) coupled with the complex world-building (“Percy Jackson and The Olympians” come to my mind, but that’s one person’s opinion) of many stories keep young people engrossed. In an era with countless more convenient distractions and avenues of entertainment, it keeps them excited about reading. With such an influence, YA’s importance is unmatched. Most mega-popular YA literature feature out-spoken female protagonists standing up for themselves and their beliefs一an entirely important message for the young girls the books are written for. Series like “The Hunger Games,” “The Selection,” “Divergent” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” standing as examples. In more recent years, a positive trend has arisen of YA novels centering around the experience of young people of non-white or non-western cultures like “The Hate U Give,” “The Poet X,” “Dear Martin” and many others一not to mention the myriad of YA books in publication telling LGBTQ stories. While true, worldly representation in YA fiction is still a work-in-progress as it stands, almost everyone can see themselves in one story or another.

For that exact reason, YA novels taught my young, female, Asian-American self that I was deserving of stories about people like me as much as the traditionally represented demographics in American media. Movies, TV and other modes are one thing, but it’s my opinion that there is nothing quite like the feeling after reading the 500-page finale of my favorite series cover-to-cover. Even as other, multi-media forms of entertainment rise to the top spot of prominence, keeping books representative, exciting and accessible to young people will be essential.

Emily Richardson is a psychology and women's studies student at Virginia Commonwealth University and HCVCU's Senior Editor for Fall 2021. She has contributed to a number of independent publications and has a passion for music, writing, and social issues.
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