Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Why Young Adult Literature Matters So Much

The last time I sat down to read a children’s book (for my own benefit, at least) was when I was still a child. Reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid led me to a great deal of reflection on the books that I had loved so much when I was young and had no idea who Milton or Faulkner or Plath were. Instead, books like Magyk by Angie Sage, Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly, and, of course, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series were the ones to incite my passion for literature.

While it is sometimes looked down on as a less than serious form of writing, young adult literature is, for me at least, one of the most important genres to ever come into being. It serves as the bridge between  children’s literature and “regular,” adult literature. The books that teens and preteens read during these formative years can have a spectacular influence on them later on in life. And my own case, it was a crucial step in my journey to eventually pursuing English literature not only as a major, but also as something that I am truly passionate about even outside of the classroom.

When I was fourteen, I picked up a discounted copy of John Green’s Looking For Alaska and thought, “Hm, this might be good, and it’s only four bucks, so if I don’t like it, whatever.” I ended up loving it – it’s still one of my favorite books to this day – and it was one of the stepping stones that led me to pursuing literature in the way that I do now.  At one point in the novel, the main character reads a few lines from a poem by W.H. Auden and remarks that it was “pretty good.” Alaska replies, “ Pretty good? Sure, and bufriedos are pretty good. Sex is pretty fun. The sun is pretty hot. Jesus, it says so much about love and brokenness––it’s perfect.” And it was perfect. At fourteen (the age when you don’t just feel things, you feel things), I felt what was going on in the poem. I understood what Auden meant, and what that in turn meant to me. The line was from “As I Walked Out One Evening,” which remains my favorite poem of all time, and I owe it all to a young adult novel.

So even though I am long past the years when reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid could possibly affect me in that way, I understand and respect what Jeff Kinney is doing as a young adult author, and I hope that the teens or preteens who pick up the book feel the same way that I did.

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