Young Adult Appreciation Month: Why YA?

 The Book Smugglers have been celebrating YA Lit for almost a month now with lots of great posts and giveaways and interviews. Now, they're turning it back to their readers and asking for a post that is somehow connected to YA Lit. Here's mine.

I get asked a lot by colleagues and students why I read so much YA. From students, it's with a bit of skepticism and incredulity that they ask me this question. Like, is she for real? Or, does she spend all of her free time reading? Yes and yes.

From colleagues, it's a mixed bag. Some seem to not have the time or money to invest in reading YA, which is not a great excuse I think because a little YA can go a long way and we have a great school library that's chock full of excellent choices. There are others who seem to think that YA is not real in the way that Shakespeare and Hemingway and Steinbeck are. Thankfully, there are very few of these teachers left at my school. But, there are still others who feel that kids should not be reading YA. Why? Too sad. Too controversial. Gives them ideas.

So, why do I read YA?

I read YA first and foremost because I love it. Some of the best books I've ever read are located in the YA section. Yes, I am able to read classics and enjoy adult literature. I belong to two adult book clubs. For one, we read a classic every month. For the other, we read a contemporary adult pick every month. But, I read many more YA titles than I do adult ones. This genre offers up so many sub-genres and topics and themes and characters that I just haven't found in adult lit. It's an exciting and dynamic place to be.

And, I do read YA because I teach young adults. I love working with teens. They are an intriguing bunch. I love teaching high school and sharing my love for books and learning with my students. I firmly believe that reading Fitzgerald or Hawthorne or Bronte does not make a life-long reader. There is just not enough pull in say The Crucible for today's average teen to make them excited about reading to the extent where they want to do it all the time. But is there pull in, say, an Ellen Hopkins novel? Absolutely.

It is not that I'm saying that classics are worthless for today's teens. Or for anyone. I love them. They have a place. I just think that teens need time to get there. If their freshman year of high school is filled with classics and no YA, how do they feel that spark, that excitement about reading? I think that they will be more inclined to become lifelong readers if they are allowed first to be teens and read literature aimed at their age and interest level. Those who love classics will still be introduced to them through their English classes and will seek them out as they enter college and through out their adult life.

But, while they are teens? Let them read. No matter if it's about zombies or sports or fashionistas or another planet, they're still reading and talking and thinking about books. And this is where a true lifelong love for reading starts. As an English teacher, I need to be able to converse with my students about what they're reading. It's as plain and simple and complex as this. Hours and hours and many dollars later, there have been conversations and ideas shared and realizations about my students that are just priceless.

That's why I read YA.