Word Nerdery: The Rise of Young Adult Fiction

When I was young, about eight or nine or so, there wasn’t a lot of fiction that was age appropriate for me. That is, I was reading at such an advanced level that the usual books about kids my age—the Magic Tree House series and its like—were fairly juvenile. Then, I discovered Harry Potter. 

Now, at this point, there were only four or so books out, so it all felt very new and intriguing. And it was. Nothing else like this was really available for a younger audience. A lot of times, going to the bookstore felt more like jumping from kid’s books, which I had already outgrown, to adult books. So I devoured Harry Potter.

The rest of the time, though, I was reading things like Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Jane Eyre, Sherlock Holmes, Little Women, and other such books. Literature, to be precise. From a different century. Then, I learned about such things as murder mysteries, and I was hooked. There were a few variations on such readings that were slightly more age-appropriate, such as the Warrior cat series by Erin Hunter, and eventually Anne McCaffrey books, but primarily, I was reading adult fiction simply because there wasn’t a lot out there.

How can that be, you may ask. There are hundreds, thousands of books written for kids and teenagers as a specific audience. And that is true, now. But at the time of my youth, such things were fairly new. I remember when Twilight was so mould breaking that it engulfed my school like a storm, when now it’s considered to be highly toxic. The Hunger Games and Eragon were new, different, and written about people my age! 

I was shocked.

And fascinated.

And definitely interested.

But the truth of the matter is that until recently, people just weren’t publishing books aimed at that in-between age group. Oh, sure, there were a few books that people would read regardless of age, like Tolkien or Robert Jordan or The Golden Compass and the like, but truly, there wasn’t a massive amount marketed to teenagers and kids specifically.

I remember when kids books were produced in those flimsy covers that fell apart after a week of reading, with paper that was just as bad. Of course, if the story took you a week to read, being maybe 150 pages of large print font, then it was a shock. Think Goosebumps. 

Suddenly, though, things changed.

What was it?

Well, as much as the modern world doesn’t want to hear it, the big change was Harry Potter. Despite Rowling’s unpopularity in social media these days, when the books came out, she was a revolutionary. There just wasn’t anything like Harry Potter for kids. Even adults read the stories and were fascinated. That’s why she’s a billionaire; her books were novel, filling a gap that was desperately wanting. People devoured those books—I devoured those books—and they became the identity for so many people my age. Suddenly, it was cool to read. Being a nerd, while not yet mainstream, was becoming more acceptable. 

There was again magic in books, and not just for adults.

Publishers demanded more. They wanted to sell books to that hungry audience and make the fortune that Rowling made. So authors answered the call.

Now, just about any bookstore I go into has a dedicated section to YA fiction. There are stories about magic, mystery, social justice, more. Yes, most of the books are fantasy-oriented, but that really is only a tip of the iceberg. These books are meant to help teens (and really anyone who reads) leap into the great, wonderful abyss of adult fiction. They are where a lot of the innovation in the book world arises, and the younger age group is now leading the book world, rather than just sort of following. 

YA rose from a vacuum and now dominates a large part of the book market. (It may not out perform romance books as a genre, but it does very well.) In fact, a large part of the readers of YA fiction are adults, simply because it fulfils a need that isn’t often available.

There is some debate on when YA fiction delves into New Adult fiction, depending on the age of the protagonist and the content, but generally speaking, YA is its own category of books. And I, for one, am glad of it. 

I read voraciously, and I am thrilled that there are books for the desperate, book-hungry teenager that I was. That there are books that fill the gaps. That there are books which introduce new worlds to a younger audience without making them feel patronised or ignored. These books give them a voice. And so, criticism aside, I’m glad that Harry Potter happened. Because it sparked a movement, and it changed the world.