Why I Like YA SFF

Last time I was up to write a post, I struggled with a topic. I got a few good suggestions, one of which I saved to do this week. So, thanks, Amy!

I’ve thought about this for the month since she initially posted the question, and I think I’ve come to a clear answer.

There are a few things I read for. I like a really well-crafted, rich world. I like stories that are dark, but not self-indulgently so. I like tense, emotional stakes. And I really, really, really like strong characters, tropes or not. More than anything, if you give me a character that I can latch on to and love and root for, I will suffer a lot of bad writing to see what happens to them.

But an interesting character alone won’t do it for me. I need the character to struggle, and to come out of the story transformed somehow. This happens in growed-up books, but not always. Sometimes (a lot of times) the characters fight their way through a great deal of high adventure, and come out on the other side no different. Maybe a few changes here and there, but nothing significant. And I’m not saying these books are somehow bad for being like this. They just don’t scratch my itch.

But while significant character transformation sometimes happens in growed-up lit, it’s a mainstay of YA, and that’s why I like it.

I wish I could say something smarter about it. Maybe discuss the power to reach out and change lives using the power of literature. But I’m just not that clever, I guess. I’m sorry if you, the reader, expected something better, grander, loftier, smarter. Maybe something snarky and full of rage. But it’s really a simple answer. I go nuts for intense character transformation. I like watching a character go through the kiln and waiting to see if they will shatter or if they will be porcelain. And it doesn’t have to be something as crazy as facing down a dragon or averting the end of the universe. It can be as small as experiencing friendship for the first time.

So, to wrap this, I’m going to list five YA titles which I love, and a little bit as to why (though maybe that’s silly of me, considering the subject of this post).

A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle
Say what you will about the ending (no spoilers here) but I loved this book as a kid. I think I got it when I was ten or so, and it rocked my face. The pictures with the string and the ant, explaining folding space, the Happy Medium, the two-dimensional world, the image of all the children playing in the street and all their motions were in perfect synch… I loved all of this. And I loved reading about Meg, the shy, bookish girl who took on this adventure so she could find and save her brother, and finds her own strength and self-confidence.

The Hobbit

The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien
Do I even need to say it? Just in case I do, Bilbo Baggins, happy little hobbit, and when it came down to it, Bilbo outwitted Golem GOLLUM (ETA: HEY THANKS SHWETA, GUESS WHO’S BEEN READING A LOT OF EASTERN EUROPEAN FOLKLORE?) and some nasty mean trolls, and he was the one who found Smaug’s weak spot. Clever, quick, and brave, and still a hobbit. I was lucky enough to get this as assigned reading when I was nine, and I blasted through it. I’ve re-read it a few times since and still love it, every time.

The Giver

The Giver by Lois Lowry
I think I’m sticking mainly to award-winners here. I guess I’m okay with that. The Giver was once again assigned reading (hooray!) when I was eleven. I loved the question posed to Jonas in the novel: Knowing now what he knows, does he stay where he is, in the stale sameness, with his family, or does he venture out, risking something greater or something far worse? I loved reading his growing internal struggle throughout this, and then what he went through after making his decision.

Harry Potter

Harry Potter by J K Rowling
No, I’m not going to bother going into this. There’s no need. I’m a huge Potter nerd. I’ve resisted bringing my “Slytherin Uniform” Halloween costume to WFC for two years now. … Moving on.

Ender's Shadow

Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card
I love Bean. I love Bean. This is what I’m talking about when I say the stakes have to be particular to the character. I liked Ender, don’t get me wrong. But Bean’s struggle to reach out to others and ask for help, his struggle to trust, his difficulty dealing with feelings of caring for other people, just… melts my cold, black heart.

So, er, yeah. That’s it. Hope that sufficiently addressed things. If you have comments or your own reasons for liking YA more/less than adult lit — or perhaps you’re indifferent, or even more fun, ambivalent — please share! I’d love to hear other perspectives.

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  • I think a lot of it is that people like getting a new and better understanding of the world. Theoretically, this gets harder the older we get, and we assume we know the world, and become either cynics or complacent. YA, however, exults in the exploration of the unknown, and coming to this better understanding of how things work – for good or ill – is often one of the key underlying themes of this type of fiction.

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  • Amy

    I love character transformation and coming-of-age stories as well. I think you’re right that character transformation is very inherent to YA, although I think most of the adult fiction I really love also highlights interesting character arcs.

    Might need to write a longer post in response at some point in the near-ish future! 🙂

  • Wendy Wagner, Inkpunk

    My true love is mid-grade (the lines are blurry; I would gladly claim Wrinkle and HP&tPS for my mid-grade cozy corner). I love the way books often focus on ways the less-abled/weaker folks can beat the odds and save the day.

    I would say that 80% of the literature I have read and loved has been written for younger audiences. Kids lit rocks!

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