In the age where Harry, Katniss, Percy, Bella, and Hazel have become more than ordinary household names and have instead placed markers in every teenager’s memory, just how far has the young adult genre come?
The young adult of yesteryears
Back in our grandparents’ days, “young adult fiction” wasn’t the phenomenal trend that it is today. In fact, young adults were only classified in their own demographic during the Second World War.
This was roughly when the first book written for teenagers was published. You may or may not have heard of the book Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly in 1942, but it paved the way for every young adult book in the history of… well, ever. Kudos to Maureen Daly for that.
“Young Adult” only became an official term for the 12-18 age range in the 1960s. This made possible the golden age of young adult novels in the 1970s, where authors like Judy Blume, Lois Duncan, and Robert Cormier came about. If you don’t think these names are familiar, try asking your parents – in a way, they were the J.K. Rowlings and John Greens of that era.
Eventually, however, teens grew tired of the usual formula for young adult novels, which often focused on adolescent issues and problems. This was when the 80s kids’ Fear Street and Sweet Valley High series came about, and people were surprised to find they were embraced eagerly by their teenage audience – possibly because they offered something new for readers to appreciate.
However, times have changed. Today, not only is Young Adult a genre all on its own, but it’s probably the most popular. According to expert Michael Cart, we’re approaching the “second golden age of young adult fiction.” Practically every time we walk into a bookstore, the first thing we see is a shelf of bestselling books for teens.
The staff at the Fully Booked branch along Taft Avenue acknowledged this, proudly showing their display of John Green, Rainbow Rowell, and Veronica Roth right by their entrance. They readily agreed that it’s an eye-catcher for students, who automatically go straight to the shelf once they enter the store. One of them shared that about 80% of their market is Lasallian teens – and it shows, as the sales rise and fall according to the schedule of classes.
For other chains like National Bookstore and Powerbooks, it’s a similar story. An officer from Powerbooks in Alabang noted the popularity of the series as compared to stand-alone books. She was also kind enough to impart the results of a survey they had conducted regarding the popularity of hard copies over digital media, adding that this statistic was true not just for teenagers but for readers of all ages.
Ms. Mona Ramos of National Bookstore Alabang imparted a little secret she’d discovered: oftentimes when she’d see mothers or older adults buying Young Adult fiction for themselves. In our interview, she expressed her surprise and amusement at the 40-to-50-year-olds reading these books, and agreed that the books of today prove to be good reads not just for the young, but also for the young at heart.
The allure of Young Adult
What is it, then, about the Young Adult genre that is so inviting? When asked, a Lasallians’ usual reply is that it is easy to relate to these books. Because the focus is on teenagers, even in the most unusual of circumstances – like, say, finding out you’re a boy wizard who’s also the Chosen One meant to take on He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named; or being thrust into an arena alongside 23 other kids knowing you need to kill them all in order to survive, as a form of entertainment for the upperclassmen in society – teenagers still somehow relate to the characters. This can be because of the romance, the “awkward growing up moments,” or the thirst for adventure that every teenager has.
Some students mentioned something else – how Young Adult books are much simpler and easier to read than adult books. Descriptions are clear, most words are to be taken literally and most emotions are easy to understand. Because of this, the reader is able to really imagine the story as if it was playing in his or her mind.
Finally, another student added that reading Young Adult books for some could be a form of escape from the monotony of everyday life. It’s a way to not only connect with the character you like, but also the world he or she lives in.
The Young Adult genre has had its ups and downs throughout its history, but it has undoubtedly been on a constant high these past few years, and it doesn’t show any signs of coming down soon. It’s nice to know that even as technology offers us new entertainments, many of us still choose to return to the magical lands and beloved characters brought to life not just by authors, but by our own imagination as well.