Young adult literature, a genre previously scoffed at for its supposed naivete, has recently started to benefit from a much-deserved sense of legitimacy among critics and readers alike.
Within a relatively short span of time, YA literature has established a strong fan base among teens and adults, and is starting to introduce a more mixed bag of narratives. Throw in the recent rise of popular YA film adaptations, and you have a market that demands a second look.
But common misconceptions continue to cling to the genre, both in terms of what many assume is in YA’s limited scope of creativity, and the topics some believe YA should just leave alone. But how can one judge what topics define teen experience?
YA lit gets a lot of heat when it comes to content, and this means that authors take on a lot of responsibility when committing to mature topics in the writing process. A controversial article in the Daily Mail earlier this year termed the rise of adult themes in YA as “sick-lit” – books dealing with real-life situations like teens grappling with terminal illness, depression, and sexuality. While the Daily Mail argued that YA authors were “glamorizing” shocking situations to seize the short attention span of teens, a retort in The Guardian pointed out that these emerging themes in YA are actually representative of issues teens will bump up against in their lives, whether personally or through family members and friends. Seeing a wider range of issues in teen lit can be a form of therapy for teens having trouble sorting through their own intense experiences. Given the opportunity to read different kinds of narratives can make teens feel less alone when dealing with challenging situations, and provide a framework for discussion.
Suzanne Sutherland, a Toronto-based author of the upcoming young adult novel, When We Were Good, is one such writer that deals sensitively and honestly with realistic issues facing teens. When We Were Good follows high school senior, Kat, as she starts her final year with a heavy heart following the death of her grandmother. Feeling detached and misunderstood by her parents and childhood best friend, Kat finds solace in the underground music scene, and her growing feelings for a straight edge fellow student named Marie. Sutherland’s work offers a lot of scope for discussion among young adults: it focuses on Kat’s own questioning sexuality while also tying in topics of friendship, shaky family dynamics, and ways of coping with death. When We Were Good makes up a small sub-section within the YA genre – according to a 2011 statistic by Rude Girl Mag, less than 1% of YA novels have a LGBTQ character, with 50% of those novels about boys, and only 25% about girls. Sutherland is just one example of emerging authors that are taking creative risks both with narrative voice and social commentary that we don’t see often enough the world of YA.
LGBTQ characters have never had it easy in the history of fiction either, often being presented as depressed, tortured, and even suicidal. Thankfully the publishing industry is now seeing the stirrings of a multiplicity of narratives, including LGBTQ love stories and generally more happy endings. When someone tries to prevent such developments in YA narratives, they’re essentially trying to limit the ways in which a diverse number of teens can feel and think. We believe the publishing industry has a responsibility to publish texts that will change prevailing tendencies in LGBTQ fiction.
We will continue to post stories about such developments in the young adult genre, and authors like Sutherland that are paving the way for a new conception of YA. Also stay tuned for more information on When We Were Good, which we’re excited to announce is coming out later this month!