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Diversify Yourself: What I’ve learned from Young Adult literature

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A common occurrence readers of all ages experience at some point in their reading journeys is judgement for their preferred genre. Ever since eighth grade, I have read Young Adult (YA) books more than anything else. As someone involved heavily in the world of advanced classes, I feel that YA often gets a bad reputation when compared to classic novels, but I find that YA stories can teach me just as much about the world, life, and humanity as books written long before my birth. This is not to say that Shakespeare is pointless to the twenty-first century – older books (and plays) do make you think, teach valuable lessons, and help you learn to analyze literature to find deeper meanings. However, I want to prove that reading YA books does not always constitute as a “brain break”, and along with that I am going to recommend some of my favorite contemporary novels that can give you new perspectives on the world while also proving to be enjoyable pastimes.

A stack of YA books that all have valuable lessons and cute stories. Photo Credit: Serena Bettis

I think one of the most important elements that you can learn from by reading YA is how to function in the world. Most romance books I read generally follow the same plot line: girl meets boy (or girl, considering the entire point of this column is to read diverse books and it is 2018), girls befriends and falls in love, girl (or some outside force) does something to mess it up, usually because of some insecurity or secret, girl mopes, girl’s friend yells at her to fix everything, and girl learns how to solve problems and apologize to people and becomes a better person, and most everything ends happily. Obviously, the real world is not always like this, and I am not trying to kid myself by pretending that it is. Relationships do not usually get to start with meet-cutes (which is what makes the book, Meet Cute so adorable but so devastating), and sometimes things just cannot work out. The books I read, though, do recognize people as imperfect. They show that people make mistakes, that life is hard, that you can’t always get what you want. Yes, they do make everything work out in the end, and all the boys are good-looking, and the mean girls never succeed, but that’s not the point.

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The beauty of these books lies in the fact that because everything works out well, you get to see how they fix the problem. The most realistic element is that people don’t wake up with their problems solved overnight, they have to work for it. When you read these, you may not always realize it, but if you enjoy the book, and you read enough, you can take the characters’ experiences with you to your own experiences. If you read Nina LaCour’s Everything Leads to You, you would remember that even when you are good at your job, your ideas don’t always work out, but you still have to keep a professional manner about you. When you read Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton, you understand the true dangers of jealousy and the value of real friendship. While learning from your own experiences is important too, readers can also learn from example with YA books, and sometimes that’s better than waiting for life to happen to you. Yes, making mistakes is a crucial part of growing up, but there are some things that are better to know beforehand than to regret afterward.

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick and Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson. Photo Credit: Serena Bettis

Young Adult novels are also really great at portraying relationships of all sorts. Not romantic relationships specifically, but YA books are full of friendships, familial relationships, meeting new people, dealing with people you don’t like, and simply navigating a world full of other humans that you (sometimes unfortunately) cannot avoid. I’ve never felt that friendships in YA books are extremely accurate, because I myself have never had the opportunity to experience super-close-without-fail best friendships, but I do know people with friends like that. YA does not just preach about how important friendships can be, but it shows you how to be a good friend. Oftentimes the main character will get caught up in their romantic relationship, or their own family problems, that they forget about their friends until they need help, only to find that their friend is fed-up with them and cannot always be there. They realize that if you want someone to lean on, you must be there for them to lean on too. I do not know if it is the same for other readers of YA, but I think that because I have read so many stories where this happens and am able to check myself in my own friendships and recognize when I could be a better friend.

My favorite part about YA as a genre is that it is all about growing up. These novels are all simply stories of teenagers trying to figure their lives out, and I think that’s a wonderful thing to read. They teach you how to be yourself while being open to new experiences, and most importantly, that not knowing everything about your future is perfectly fine. The more you read, the more you are able to reflect on your own self and ponder what you like, what you don’t like, and who you want to be. Books are intensely personal. Author purposefully convey their main character’s most intimate thoughts to accurately tell a story. I think that reading is one of the best ways you can get in other people’s minds – you get the chance to understand that other people think in the same ways you do (or do not, for that matter) because even though the person is fictional, the author writing them is real. When you get this glimpse into someone else’s mind, you find what you relate to and what you never knew, and from there, even when the book is finished, you continue to reflect on your own life. I really love doing this, and I think much of my self-reflection and figuring out the person I want to become stems from reading.

So I say read Young Adult books, unabashedly, and let yourself enjoy them. You never know what you might learn.

Here are just a few of my recommendations – contact me if you want more.

Three fantastic YA books. Photo Credit: Serena Bettis

  • Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
  • The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson
  • My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
  • All Fall Down by Ally Carter
  • Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sanez

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Diversify Yourself: What I’ve learned from Young Adult literature