In April, best-selling and award-winning author Becky Albertalli was kind enough to speak to me about bona fides in queer literature. On Wednesday, she agreed to talk to me about another topic of speech: young adult fiction.
“Every few months there’s an op-ed that comes out about how books like ‘Twilight’ dumb down literature,” Albertalli said.
While novels like “Twilight” may have been indicative of young adult fiction in the early 2000s, they’re not an accurate representation of what the genre has become.
Although “Twilight” might be stocked in the young adult section of my local Barnes & Noble, it sits right next to Leah Johnson’s “You Should See Me in a Crown,” and LC Rosen’s “Camp.” These books describe the bizarre coming-of-age stories of a poor black girl in a rich, white town and a boy exploring gender norms as he tries to win the heart of his crush – themes which are perhaps a bit more impactful than a paranormal love triangle involving vampires and werewolves.
But even as young adult fiction has changed and evolved, the sense of shame that literary circles place on its fans remains.
One idea that’s been repeated to me over and over again is that reading books like Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History” and Sally Rooney’s “Normal People” gives you access to an exclusive club that “Red, White” readers & Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston will never have. be able to access. This idea is based on the assumption that, unlike literary fiction, books for young adults do not engage people or spark conversations about the world around us.
“It’s not just people on the internet either,” Albertalli said. “Once, at an event for emerging authors I attended while writing ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’, a man who was writing a literary fiction novel told me that I would be the bestseller and he would win the prizes. This is his face that I imagined when I won the William C. Morris YA Debut Award in 2016.”
The problem I have with saying that young adult fiction doesn’t engage or spark conversations about our society is that it’s not true and conversations around a book aren’t the only measure of its quality.
As a queer person of color, I’ve found more books about people who look like me in the section of young adult bookstores than anywhere else. That’s not to say that literary fiction doesn’t feature people of color — but one of the greatest strengths of young adult fiction is that its broad scope leaves room for more diverse stories.
When I first read “Red, White & Royal Blue” I was a junior in high school. I had just come out as queer, and all I wanted was my own love story – something that wasn’t available to me at the time. Seeing Alex Claremont-Diaz – a queer Latin character – get the happy ending usually reserved for his white, straight counterparts almost moved me to tears. It didn’t matter that the plot of the book was unrealistic or that it contained scathing references to Taylor Swift, because it gave me hope that I got everything I wanted too.
That doesn’t mean we can’t critique young adult fiction.
“Negative reviews are part of the ecosystem,” Albertalli said. “As a reader, you have every right to hate it, throw it across the room, and criticize it. But is your criticism based on something quantifiable like language, or are you upset that it’s not another medium? Books shouldn’t be weighed against something they’re not trying to be. Just because it doesn’t work for you doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve to exist.
Books for young adults are cultural touchstones. They represent the time periods in which they were written, and their fictional worlds portray the real-world struggles their readers face in their daily lives. Some may be nonsensical or poorly written, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that someone somewhere is finding hope for their future in the pages of a romance between the son of the President of the United States and a British prince. .
Emilio Cabral is a sophomore at Weinberg. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to publicly respond to this editorial, send a letter to the editor at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of all Daily Northwestern staff.