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