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  • There are those who say that kids these days don't read books.

  • But that's just not true.

  • Millennials and whatever we're calling the generation after millennials are actually more well-read on average than earlier generations, and also read more books per year.

  • And believe it or not, we have the likes of the "Hunger Games" and "Harry Potter" and even "Twilight" to thank for that.

  • So thanks, YA.

  • Young adult is a term whose meaning has varied wildly over the years.

  • It can apply to coming of age tragedies or serialized adventures of babysitters or insert really dated twilight joke here.

  • But where did this young adult genre come from?

  • And why did it get so big?

  • While narratives for children have existed since people started telling stories, a designated literary market for that mysterious, magical period of time known as teenagerdom is somewhat new.

  • And to be fair, teenagers weren't a designated demographic in most respects until around World War II, due in part to advances in psychology, sociological changes, like the abolishment of child labor, and even technological advances like the car making it easy to sneak out of your parents' house.

  • But suddenly, teens are here. And with them come a plethora of shiny, new things marketed to them, clothes, music, films, radio programs, and of course, the novel.

  • In 1942, Maureen Daly, herself only 17 years old, publishes the "Seventeenth Summer," which some have called the first young adult novel.

  • "Seventeenth Summer" featured plot points and themes particularly to teens, under age drinking, driving, dating, and the, of course, eternally popular angst.

  • But it wasn't the great literary critics of the time who defined this new category of fiction.

  • It was librarians, in particular, librarians from the New York Public Library.

  • Starting in 1906, Anne Carroll Moore built a, sort of, League of Extraordinary Librarians, women who were interested not only in keeping this nascent adolescent audience in libraries but also finding out what made them tick.

  • Another young librarian brought on by Moore, Mabel Williams, began working with her peers to find books in both the children's and adult sections that might be of interest to teens.

  • And in 1929, the first annual NYPL books for young people list was sent to schools and libraries across the country.

  • In 1944, another NYPL librarian, Margaret Scoggin, changed the name of her library journal column from "Books for Older Boys and Girls" to "Books for Young Adults."

  • And the genre was christened with a name that has lasted to this day.

  • While the YA genre had already been laying down its roots for decades at this point, most YA fiction tended to feature the same generic plot points.

  • Girl dates boy.

  • Maybe they have a fight or something.

  • But then they resolve it.

  • The end.

  • But in the 60s, young people started to see more thoughtful contemplations of what it is just to be a teenager.

  • Hugely noteworthy from this era is S.E. Hinton's, "The Outsiders," published in 1967.

  • At first, the novel that failed on the adult paperback market, the publisher noticed it was mostly being purchased by teens and then re-marketed it to them.

  • And YA allowed itself to explore deeper subjects, ushering in novels like "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret" and "The Chocolate War."

  • During the 80s and 90s however, YA started skewing towards serialized fiction, or from the likes of R.L. Stine, school centric fiction like "Sweet Valley High" and "The Baby-Sitters Club" and genre fiction like K.A. Applegate's "Animorphs Series."

  • So while young adult fiction was plenty lucrative, it wasn't really respected by people outside of its targeted readership.

  • It was low art for kids!

  • But then everything changed with a boy wizard.

  • In 1997, publisher Bloomsbury takes a leap of faith and publishes "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone."

  • In spite of being genre fiction, "Harry Potter" manages to resound not only with the YA audience, but it also leaks into a large adult market.

  • Harry Potter as a character also grows up with his readers, starting out 11 years old and ending at 17.

  • And the tone of the series matures as well.

  • So this new post "Harry Potter" YA is nearly as long and sometimes longer, sometimes way longer, as adult fiction and on the same reading level as commercial adult fiction.

  • "Harry Potter" also opens the door for a wide variety of darker, genre-based YA novels that can appeal to an audience beyond teens and possibly get optioned for a multi-million dollar movie franchises.

  • With "Twilight," for instance, came a boom in the YA subgenre of paranormal romance.

  • And boy, that sure was a thing that came and went.

  • "The Hunger Games" popularized the subgenre of YA dystopia.

  • And that, also, was a thing that came and went really quickly.

  • And now, well, genre fiction is still popular in YA, but the trend has cycled back to discussing relevant social issues and the world as it is.

  • John Green's, "The Fault In Our Stars" was a massive hit that dealt with kids who fall in love while dying of cancer.

  • And one of the most popular YA books of the last year was Angie Thomas's, "The Hate You Give," which was partially inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

  • And also it was really great by the way, you should read it.

  • So it's a bit reductive to be dismissive of Young Adult.

  • First of all, it's not just a niche genre.

  • YA is remarkable for its wide appeal.

  • 55% of YA books purchased in 2012 were bought by adults between 18 and 44 years old.

  • It's also remarkable to see the emergence of a genre pioneered by women, authors like Maureen Daly, J.K. Rowling, and Angie Thomas, and librarians like Mabel Williams and Margaret Scoggin.

  • Not only does YA shape younger audiences as readers, it is a genre that helps give its audience a lexicon for understanding that there is a complex world between childhood and adulthood.

  • So what is your favorite YA book?

  • Are there any books you love that maybe you didn't realize were categorized as YA?

  • Leave a comment below.

  • "The Great American Read" is a new series on PBS about why we love to read, leading up to a nationwide vote on America's favorite novel.

  • Who decides America's favorite novel, you ask?

  • Well, that would be you.

  • So head to to vote on your favorite book.

  • Check the link in the description for more details.

There are those who say that kids these days don't read books.

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B2 US genre adult young adult potter young harry

The Evolution of YA: Young Adult Fiction, Explained (Feat. Lindsay Ellis) | It's Lit!

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    Vera posted on 2021/10/12
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