My Incessant Frustration with YA Novels

Ah, Twilight. The phenomenon changed the world in most ways than many realize, and in more ways than it should have. The book, for those who have been hiding under a rock since the iPod came out, centers around a sulky teenager who must choose between an emotionless vampire and a strange, slimy werewolf, creating one of the worst love triangles ever. The books have no redeeming value, whatsoever, yet over a million people still bought every book. Now, while Twilight started the now-dying Vampire craze, it also started a certain trend, that, while more prevalent in our lives, we don’t think about.

Before Twilight, the genre of YA didn’t really exist. The novels went into either the kid’s section, or if the books were more mature in their narrative, they went to the adult section. After you finished obsessing over Harry Potter (or, at least, your obsession died down), you moved on to adult literature. There was no middle ground. Now, however, there is this new section, one not marked by its genre, but by specifically who is being marketed. In any other scenario, this wouldn’t have worked. Imagine walking into a bookstore and seeing a section such as “Female Retirees who live in Florida” or “Twenty-Something Philosophy Majors.” It wouldn’t work. It shouldn’t work. Yet in the case of the category of Young Adult, it does. Not because the novels in that section are great, or profound, or even good. Nor because the books are wildly original. It works because the novels strike an odd balance of intrigue and (supposed) intelligence that make them compulsively readable for any age group. Think about it. I read “The Hunger Games.” My friends all read “The Hunger Games.” My parents read “The Hunger Games.” My teachers read “The Hunger Games.” My grandparents read “The Hunger Games.” Ever since YA novels became a somewhat legitimate genre, I have seen the amount of books that everybody I know (and I mean everybody) has read double.

Still, why do we read these novels? How pathetic are we to constantly to buy these almost identical novels, churned out by publishing companies on an almost weekly basis? These books, for the most part, have no depth, iffy messages of devotion to love, and endlessly similar ‘dystopian’ societies. So what is the reasoning behind buying these books?

There is, in fact, an entirely legitimate reason for reading YA novels. The books are engaging and consistently readable. Almost all of these books are in a series, so there’s a constant devotion and hunger for more stories and adventures with the same characters. The characters all seem to follow the same model. The girl might have ‘spunk,’ or she might be ‘brave,’ but she’s always a rebel. She’s also always an incredibly conceited romantic. I love you! I hate you! I want to be with you forever! I can’t stand it. The male characters aren’t much better. They are either entirely bland, or are so uncomfortable with themselves that you can’t focus on anything else about them, largely due to the fact that there is nothing else about them.

Take the recent “YA best-seller” Eleanor and Park. Those who love it have said that it is a beautifully accurate, sad, funny portrait of young love. I find it to be an incredibly self-absorbed piece of crap that tries to imitate every John Hughes film ever made at once, while being really solemn. It fails pretty badly. I’ve come to realize that most YA novels are like this.

Now, are there any YA books that are in fact decent? Of course there are. John Green consistently churns out funny, intelligent, poignant novels that never feel forced. Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy is dystopian science-fiction packed with too many  easy plot devices to count (brain chips, truth serums, and rebellions are omnipresent), but she puts them to good use, making the series into what seems like poetry.

I don’t necessarily approve of this relatively new genre, but one thing is for sure: If we keep reading these books, publishers will keep printing them. The question now becomes whether or not we will.