YA Fiction – Books that Matter
YA fiction stories that you must read:
What YA Fiction teaches:
Every life is thwarted by conflict. Yet, without conflict we might never see the shape of who we are. Sometimes, we don’t see that shape even when we live it. Day by day we walk into more conflict. It might be said that we choose to ignore advice, wisdom or the kind guidance of others. In particular, as teenagers we feel that we are the first to ever walk the path we’re on. It’s difficult for teenagers to see parents or other advice givers as anything but the parent or guardian they know them to be now. As much as it’s difficult for such people to impart wisdom without them being heard as platitudes; condescending youthful actions and diluting the meaning and the depth of feeling that comes with such youthful naivety. There are rare occasions when teenagers will heed advice and warning, just as there are parents or other adult advice givers that will impart their wisdom and experience with understanding, compassion and sensitivity. But there is a world of grey in between where teenagers seek to understand themselves through mature guidance, and where they find belonging. And this is where literature has its place in the world of teenagers, and maybe even parents.
There is something to be said of the relationship between a teenage reader and a book. Of course, some teens hate to read, instead reaching for the nearest social platform to find copies of themselves. Yet, books for teens don’t have to be boring. They can be wild and engaging with elicit content (strictly 15+), or they can create a cushion of familiarity for panic and anxiety. It’s not all Swallows and Amazons, or the Fantastic Five anymore. Teenagers of today are more exposed to real life situations, and we need to prepare them for that – in all it’s glory and it’s shame. Because teens at some point will feel shame as well as glory, and they need to be shown what that looks like (awareness) and how to deal with it. YA fiction has the potential to educate, inspire and teach them about life and themselves better than any social media hook can.
As much as teens will immerse themselves in a good film, so too can they lose themselves in reading a story that reveals a piece of them with each page. Of course, it doesn’t mean they see themselves as the lead character up to no good, but it does give them opportunity to watch a story play out as an observer. And it’s this position of observer that creates a channel for them to compare, contrast, understand, empathise, and maybe see themselves or their friends and their actions in the movements of these fictional characters. Literature gifts them the skill of critical thinking. And being a critical thinker is definitely something you should want for your child.
This teaches them a great deal about themselves, their friends, society, expectations, belonging, community, friendship, love, sex, desire. It makes them ask questions. It makes them curious – not to rebel and go against the grain – but to consider outcomes through informed foresight, rather than jumping in and worrying about the consequences later.
In YA fiction, nothing is off limits because in life sometimes teenagers don’t get to choose what or who they meet or have to deal with, and so literature needs to emulate not just the romantic side of life but the ugly nature that plays out too. Because we don’t choose what conflict fills our lives, but we can choose how to prepare ourselves and how to deal with it.
The more teen fiction available that speaks to teens in a raw way, that gets them to read and understand a bigger message about society and themselves, will hopefully enable them to make good choices, be wise beyond their years and have compassion and tolerance for situations they encounter. I would suggest that a sense of belonging is what every teen craves. As children we find this in the family home (if we’re lucky) and as teenagers we seek to find it socially, often at high school, more often making compromises in order to be accepted and fit in.
This sense of belonging results in a sort of internal power that enables them to identify with others. And this is key. Because being able to identify with others, is feeling comfort that you are accepted, and that you have a quality that’s liked. Of course, there are occasions when teens stray in the wrong direction in seeking validation for who they are. Yet for most, they are still discovering fragments of themselves, and won’t for many years actually know who they are. I think many adults still toy around with the question, “Who am I?” and so, to expect our teens to recognise this simply from being exposed to peers is quite shallow. Our teenagers are amazing young adults with more foresight, critical thinking capacity and a thirst for belonging than we give them credit for. Because even though they should always belong to family, they should first and foremost belong to themselves, and not compromise who they are unless they fully understand and are comfortable with the cost.
Teenagers will have to experience lots of events to understand what feels right and what feels wrong to them, and for most, they will do this alone amongst friend, foe or something in between. So, it’s important that even for the least interested reader that authors give them stories and characters and hyperbolic situations that can help shape their critical thinking. It’s important that they see the function of how the brain can work for or against them, like in Pretty Girl-13 by Liz Coley, or how ‘bad’ family values and behaviour don’t have to depict the actions of the growing young adult as told in Whitegate by CL Doherty, or how they can see their anxiety or panic attacks, as shaped in Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella, or finally how societal conformity is not great for individualism, as told in Flawed by Cecelia Ahern.
These books are works of YA fiction that not only create enjoyment, entertainment and escapism for teen readers, they are also windows into society, human behaviour, mental illness and the relationships between parents and children. As parents with avid teenage readers (or reluctant ones) we can start a conversation around the themes discussed in these books. Rather than making a subject taboo, why not embrace it and look for the deeper meaning, so that no topic is off limits, and insight, critical thinking and a sense of belonging truly flourishes within your teenager.
When you consider what these books have to offer, they become something more than a book; pieces of history, family relationships and wrong doings, conformity and conflict, and of course resolution and self-reflection.
Whether books be fictional or fact they all impart messages to the reader. And you could do the same. You could be the next person to hand your teenager a book (maybe about your teenage years). You could be the next person to write a book for young adults. Or better yet, you and your teenager could both right your teenage experiences into a memoir and tie the lines to the similarities of your experiences.
There’s so much YA fiction can offer to parents, teenagers and everything in between.
What YA fiction book will you choose first?
Respectfully your guide,
Pages you might be interested in: