While the number of books I’ve met and not liked are well under double digits, give me fantastic lands, magical qualities, and a dose of steampunk or urban fantasy over realistic fiction any day. I’ve found plenty of authors and books in those categories that tickle my fancy (China Mieville, Neil Gaiman, Francesca Lia Block, to name a few), it seems like most books that fit the bill come from the young adult category which, more often than not, seems to get a bad rap on the notion that it’s just a genre for “kids”. I’ve never been drawn to the top-sellers list at the book store (I wish I could say why) and most summer must-reads in popular magazines strike me as incredibly boring beach reading. And while I love a heartfelt, heavy story – I just finished The Kite Runner which is a far cry from the magical, urban-fantasy I love so much and loved it equally – I’m more at home with an element of fantasy. Maybe I overdosed on reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and a bunch of Anne Rice novels growing up. Yeah, sure, we’ll blame it on that. Yet somehow, society is less likely, for whatever reason, to admit magic and fantasy into the mainstream, instead constraining the genre largely to seventeen-year olds and their real world reading counterparts. Just because a story features younger characters or a fantastic setting, or is even labeled “YA” doesn’t mean the writing and story are rubbish or underneath any one reading level and it kills me to see stories not taken seriously because, “Oh, that’s a book for kids”.
There are a number of series that I’ve read and deplore, but not on the basis that they’re YA. My criteria for shunning any book, adult or not remains relatively the same; bad writing, one-dimensional characters, unimaginative descriptions, and a wonky plot (amongst other things) are an instant turn-off regardless of the intended audience or supposed reading level. There is the added tendency to judge a YA book on the values in its content; there a number of times where I’ve enjoyed a story, but questioned some of the lessons being enforced or hinted at on the sole basis that kids are primarily reading this and how will that influence them? There’s definitely a judgmental air about the lessons being taught, something that isn’t so worried about in adult fiction. And while sometimes the message may not be the most desirable for a certain age group, there can still be merit in the story itself, or the way it is written.
Whatever topic a book touches on, be it the timeless values of loyalty and friendship as in Harry Potter (which is somewhat of an anomaly for me, as I was a “young adult” when the series first came out) or the very adult topics of a dystopian future in The Hunger Games, it seems like anything that features young protagonists or a magical element often gets slapped with the young adult label whether truly deserving or not. Since when did magic become limited to preteens? The connection seems arbitrary and so many works get shunned or undervalued because of it.