Illustration by Natalya Lobanova

My name is Amy Jones. I’m 29 years old, a mother, an author, a responsible pet owner, a Radio 3 listener, a generally functioning grown-up – and I love reading Young Adult fiction.

It started by accident, when I picked up The Hunger Games because everybody was talking about it and got hooked. It was just so fast-paced. So enjoyable. It took me out of my own head in a way nothing else did.

I truly believed it was just going to be a one-time fling, but then I kept seeing what looked like myself in the laptop-tapping woman on the cover of Fangirl, a coming-of-age YA novel about twin sisters. After that I read The Fault in Our Stars before the film adaptation came out. 

With each book, YA became harder to resist. Eventually my obsession got so bad that my husband found me in the kitchen, stirring a risotto with one hand and reading Silence Is GoldfishAnnabel Pitcher's story of a girl who turns mute from rage, with the other.

I may sound like a member of a YA Anonymous meeting, but in the current literary climate, to enjoy the genre as a grown-up feels like something that needs confessing. While many people adore YA, there is a certain pocket of the book world which likes to try and dismiss it as overblown, riddled with cliché and certainly not suitable for serious-minded adults. Sometimes it is presented as the literary equivalent of One Direction or Taylor Swift: too big and too successful to be taken seriously.  

In truth, like the teenagers it depicts, YA’s biggest problem is that it is misunderstood. There are certainly some familiar tropes, but then again most literary genres wouldn’t exist without clichés. Romance plays a considerable part in many YA narrative, but not every YA book is full of love-triangles, tortured looks and inexplicably bad dialogue. It’s true that supernatural creatures proliferate, along with troubled teens saving the world, but often, YA just takes an ordinary person in an ordinary situation and writes about them in a thoughtful and beautiful way. 

One of YA’s greatest strengths is how, at its best, it manages to discuss serious issues in an accessible way. Feminism is a huge theme throughout. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness deals with grief and anger; The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas explores racism; Butter by Erin Lange and The Year I Didn’t Eat by Samuel Palin look at eating disorders; All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven discusses mental health. These are not frivolous or silly topics – nor are they treated as such. They’re about the deeply painful issues that adults tackle every day.

Just because these issues are examined through the eyes of a teen rather than an older character doesn’t make them any less meaningful; it certainly helped me understand my own life. Matthew Quick’s Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock encouraged me to work through my own mental health difficulties. The first time I read Fangirl, it truly felt like someone had seen the secret, scared parts of my heart and explained them back to me. Forget the age difference, I was able to relate to these teenage characters and navigate my own world better for knowing them.

One of the saddest losses for the adults who automatically write off YA is that they’re missing out on future classics. Do you think Jane Austen and Phillip Pullman set out to write literary masterpieces, or rather engaging books about teenage girls and love triangles, about magical worlds and quests? The Noughts & Crosses series by Malorie Blackman is undeniably a YA series, but it’s also one of the most important works on racism in the English language. Just because a book is entertaining doesn’t mean it can’t also be brilliant, world-changing and loved for decades to come. 

And even if a YA novel is purely entertaining, that’s totally fine, too. Some YA books aren’t astounding works of art, but they’re almost universally amusing. Sometimes a book is a healthy, hearty salad with whole grains, and sometimes it’s a bar of chocolate, devoured in a rush for the joy of it. Both delicious and, in their own way, good for you - why deny yourself either? 

Read the classics, the prize-winners and the highbrow book club recommendations. But then read the one your niece can’t stop talking about or the one Netflix is making an adaptation of, and adore that too. My life would be less rich and far less fun without YA in it – don’t deny yourself that same pleasure because of misguided snobbery.

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