Booked In With Jess: 1

This week I’d like to present a defence of young adult fiction; the hairdresser of the literature world, always looked down upon by more academic and mature novels.

When you’re utterly engrossed in a young adult book and someone says, “What’re you reading there?” there’s often a moment of hesitation and embarrassment when you don’t want to admit you are reading something that isn’t perhaps aimed at your age group and is even somewhat judged when you are the “appropriate” age.

I’ve been reading Soulmates and Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne, a journalist for www.TheSite.org, an advice and information website for 16-25 year-olds. Am I Normal Yet? centres on a teenager named Evie who struggles with OCD. So yes, it’s young adult fiction because Evie is a teenager – let’s say it, embrace it, and keep taking it seriously. For the majority of the novel, Evie is going through her recovery, scared to admit to her new friends and potential boyfriend about her struggle. Scattered ‘Good Thoughts’ and ‘Bad Thoughts’ randomly pop up mid-chapter as well as record sheets illustrating how much medication she is taking and what her mental health homework is.

The most striking aspect of Am I Normal Yet? is the thorough research that Bourne evidently conducted which allowed her to form creative yet believable detailed traits of the mental health issue at hand. Providing young adults with an insight into mental health problems can not only teach important lessons in an enjoyable way, but also help reach those who are struggling to let them know that they aren’t alone and there is help for them. Before I read Am I Normal Yet? I, admittedly, believed OCD to be about washing your hands a lot and getting overly anxious about cleaning – ignorant, I know. So even though I’m nineteen and felt a little old to be reading the story, it transported me back to my mid-teen years and taught me a lot.

While many people label young adult fiction as one-dimensional and flat, I must add that Am I Normal Yet? discussed feminism in-depth, from tampon adverts to female loyalty and benevolent sexism, drawing attention to issues that evidently affect women of all ages. Protagonist, Evie says: “women are ‘mad’ if we want boys to treat us properly and with respect. We’re called ‘high maintenance’ or ‘psycho exes’”, demonstrating that a young adult fiction doesn’t have to be about romantic relationships and bitchy arguments between girls; in fact many of them aren’t.

Now I’m going to admit that I read Am I Normal Yet? on my Kindle – the growing popularity of e-Readers allowing us to remain even more private with our books and tempting us to hide our passion for young adult novels. Really, by exploring books aimed at an intended audience category you don’t fit into, and exploring a wide breadth of authors, you are bound to discover far more books you’ll fall in love with. Not only that, it’ll increase your awareness of language, style and authorial intentions, allowing you to appreciate just why that book sits in a particular section of Waterstones.

Jessikah Hope Stenson

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Ian Andrew says:

    I agree about YA getting a “look-down-the-nose” attitude from some, yet have to say three of the best books / series of books I’ve read as an adult were apparently written for YA.
    I was given a book called “Northern Lights” by a friend. I knew nothing about it or the author, some guy called Phillip Pullman. After almost inhaling the book I found out it was the first in a proposed trilogy and reported to my local bookseller in Cambridge. After scouring the aisles for the second in the series and having no luck, I went to the sales desk and asked for “The Subtle Knife”, only to be rather amazed when told ‘In the young adult section, Sir.’ The first book had material that was deep, meaningful and (if you know the book) “cutting”. However, it and the third were read and that realisation of excellent writing in the YA genre led me to John Marsden’s “Tomorrow When the War Began” and Lucy Christopher’s “Stolen”. All magnificent and all dealing with topics that transcend the reader’s years. I may not have the often described angst to look forward to, but I can reminisce 🙂

  2. Sarah says:

    Great article, I too experience moments of “book shame” when someone asks me what I’m reading, I even get a little anxious if I’m reading something that’s perhaps deemed not age appropriate, or seen as belonging to a “shallow” genre like YA fiction or even Chick Lit. I’ve been too nervous about what people might think when I take one of these titles out in a public location like a train or coffee shop to the extent where it’s stopped me before (a shame, because reading and coffee are like two of my favorite habits, the combination: pure escapism). I feel inspired to not let that get me down and tote my book covers with pride.

    1. Jessikah Hope Stenson says:

      Thank you for this lovely comment! Rarely ever will someone literally question why you are reading YA/Chick Lit but if they do, you know you are educating yourself and understanding literature on a much deeper level than they are and by them avoiding genres they are also missing out on so many amazing books! Just recommend one and see if you can introduce them to a whole new world of books.

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