For the love of YA

February 10, 2023

For my 2023 reading challenge, I looked back at the books I read and remembered to document in the past few years. The occasional YA (Young Adult) book has been making more of a conscious appearance and last year, I went on a YA reading spree and I had the time of my life. While the writing tends to leave space for improvement, I keep wondering ‘what is it about YA fiction that beckons to me time and time again?’ I looked back on some YA fiction across the past few years and explored what it is about the genre that still appeals to adults.

  1. It’s complex but engaging

Ace of Spades – Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

There’s an expectation that growing up means reading more age appropriate content and it’s true. Aging negates the excuse of not knowing more and not knowing better. It does not however mean that reading cannot and should not be fun. Some of the best ways to address and introduce complex matters are through a younger lens. In a brilliant debut, Àbíké-Íyímídé explores the crossed paths of Devon and Chiamaka at Niveus Private Academy. The book is a thriller set in a predominantly white institution. While the subject matter is serious, she does well to communicate clearly the core themes of institutional racism and homophobia in the Black community particularly within the context of teenage angst.

  1. It’s freeing

Let’s Talk About Love (2018) – Claire Kann / Juliet takes a breath (2016) – Gabby Rivera

We talk a lot about adulting. The intricacies and difficulties of coming to terms with being an adult. It’s not a straight path but YA is part of the road to getting there. The complexities of discovering self, sexuality and identity makes adulting even harder to navigate. For this double feature, I’m highlighting 2 novels that address the aforementioned. Both novels highlight the expanse of queer identities. Kann writes of asexuality and romanticism through the titular character Alice. While Rivera is not a Black author, she does well in her writing of community alongside capturing the fears of realizing what it means to be your own person. With Kam, I appreciate the way she unpacks self and accountability and how this relates to personal development and friendships. Similarly, Rivera explores feminist and queer spaces that largely posit whiteness as the norm while othering non-white identities in the process. Both books are incredibly warm and affirming in showing  the importance of thinking for yourself and becoming your own person. It’s incredibly refreshing to see love posited so freely despite the bumps in the road. 

  1. It’s educational

Kindred – Octavia Butler (1979)

Alisha Wormsly’s There are Black People in the Future has gained more traction in recent years. It addresses the oppression of Black people and simultaneously reminds that Black people will continue to exist and be present despite this. In the context of Literature, Black people are not a foreign entity. The world – bending of the fantasy, and speculative genres are not validated by the presence of Black people in the future but instead by the possibilities of what life could be beyond the natural order and state of things. Octavia Butler’s Kindred is a staple in the literary canon. Both speculative and genre crossing, it flits between 1976 and 1815 through protagonist Dana as she is transported back in time to the Antebellum South. The novel is extremely poignant for both YA and older audiences in the way it clearly notes how racism works. Butler is clear on how racism functions as a generational oppressive tool, a constant ongoing process that continues to harm those it deems as other. Butler’s pioneering continues to set the pace for authors today using genre as a useful tool in teaching history through alternative means and a jumping point for how racism continues to function.

  1. It’s world-bending

There is a youthfulness in YA that appeals to the simplicity and excitement of growing up. The parameters of realism can be blurred because when you’re young, growing up, realistically doesn’t look beyond a certain age like 21. While looking back, 21 barely touches on the expanse of what it means to be an adult, younger milestones of becoming a teenager and turning 16 take on even bigger positions in your life when you’re young. In Pet, Akwaeke explores what it means to grow up in a utopia and how that is disrupted by those who wish to cause harm and keep it in the shadows. In Pet’s prequel, Bitter, they highlight that the world – bending of the fantasy, and speculative genres are not validated by the presence of Black people in the future but instead by the possibilities of what life could be beyond the natural order and state of things and offers a rendition of what it means to get there. Here is a world where monsters exist to weed out those that cause harm, where Blackness in its multiple iterations exist freely and growing up and the imagination of a world that does not hinge on having Black people as anomalies in the future.