How Young Adult Literature is leading the way on representation by LaurenWritten by Lauren Carter Allan
My own reading background originated at fifteen. Influenced by my love of CSI, I devoured the back catalogues of Michael Connelly and James Patterson. Following my premature journey into the world of crime fiction, I spent years imprisoned by the genre (in the best way).
It wasn’t until I was on the edge of my post teenage life, amid the growing popularity of book adaptations, that I discovered the Young Adult genre even existed. Twilight. The Hunger Games. Divergent. Perks of Being a Wallflower. Fault in Our Stars.
Although elements of their narratives can be debated in terms of intention and meaning, the fact that they speak of young people without belittling them, and empower them, their intelligence and their understandings, can’t be ignored.
On January 3rd of this year, I turned the mature age of twenty-seven. And being that mature adult, I was gifted two LGBT Young Adult books: The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Empress of The Word. Although the former is vastly superior creatively and technically, both were a rare reading experience for me because their protagonists were queer females.
I am a gay woman. Though I didn’t come into my own sexual orientation until I was in my early twenties, having narratives that explore and normalise those feelings, even through teenage characters, makes the world seem that little bit smaller and more relatable. Had I read those books, or known they were out there when my own feelings were confusing, who knows how different my own understanding of the world and myself could have been?
I was addicted. I needed more books that represented this under-represented part of my life, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were a vast number of authors writing about a diverse range of topics and people, a characteristic I hadn’t seen in any other genre.
Young Adult, typically aimed at the teenage market, isn’t only a section in a book store (or an Amazon Department, for those who don’t savour the texture of covers and pages anymore) but a genre within fiction that is proving itself to be more diverse, inclusive and boundary pushing than any of its neighbouring genres. The genre is setting a standard baseline of what its audience now considers as acceptable representation.
In the current human and political climate, a statement often heard is that the next generation will save us. That may be true, but credit should not be overlooked for those who nurture these minds, and influence their path to create the diverse and cultured future we all imagine.
An under-valued genre
You know that glass ceiling? The publishing industry has one too.
Viewed in the literary world as the little sister, Young Adult often struggles to be taken seriously as a form of literature. If you are to believe Netflix’s ‘Friends from College’, Young Adult is “the place where award-winning authors go to die”.
Instead of challenging this old fashioned concept, the series reinforces the idea of Young Adult as the genre for young girls, where male writers “lose their masculinity” by creating “bathtub moments” for fourteen year old girls. It is telling that the representation of an entire genre as less serious or respectable goes hand in hand with viewing it as “girly”.
Yes, there have been faults, including recent Young Adult novels of mainstream success- aren’t there always when a new idea or wave breaks? But Young Adult fiction isn’t just about sparkling vampires and dystopian alternatives. It’s about you.
It’s about writers who, in desperate need of personal representation, filled the void for the people who’d follow. And in representing the forgotten, opened the minds not only of the people searching for these worlds, these characters, but of those unaware of their existence or potential.
While I have been swimming in the shallow waters that this genre has to offer, this isn’t just about LGBTQ+ diversity. Young Adult writers and publishers are purposely working to create a genre that represents each and every one of us, with debut novels The Hate U Give and The Mothers receiving critical acclaim for their portrayal of people of colour. And that is just a scratch on the tip of the Young Adult iceberg.
This is why adults and other genres alike should acknowledge and respect Young Adult fiction, and its authors, as the genre that is leading the way for inclusivity, the genre taking a stance to not only improve their craft but to develop the perspectives and attitudes of their readers.
I can only have optimism that, in time, this will be reflected not only through literature and pop culture, but more generally through all forms of creative expression. Representing diversity is such an easy and natural thing to do that there is no excuse for it not to be replicated within other genres or mediums.
Emily M Danforth, The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Nina LaCour, Everything Leads to You, We Are Okay, You Know Me Well
Robin Talley, Our Own Private Universe, What We Left Behind, As I Descended, Lies We Tell Ourselves
Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give
Britt Bennett, The Mothers