There’s a subtle moment, a turning point in time when a chapter of memorable firsts transformed one’s period of youth into an age of maturity—the time when a first heartbreak, first love, and first dream were more than just parts of a story, they were beginnings. With arms opened wide and eyes closed, the first free fall into a taste of adulthood wasn’t just a preview of what was to come, it was a rite of passage. And these moments—the highs and the lows of first love, the joys of friendship, the thrill of life’s many firsts—young adult fiction attempts to capture through words.
Depicting the pleasures, perils, and misadventures that go along with growing-up, young adult fiction captures heartbreaks and moments of self-discoveries in adolescence. But beyond the prose and the metaphors, YA tackles the sensations of unrequited love, teenage insecurities, and the challenges attached to the path of maturity in a light that teases out the relatable quandaries surrounding relationships. Binding individual experiences into unique stories of hope, love, and dreams-come-true with a twist, YA retraces the complex route of life’s many firsts, navigating the possibilities of beginnings that hit close to home.
The age of innocence
“Young adult experiences, at their core, revolve around the same joys, heartbreaks, connections, and questions, wherever you are in the world,” says Marla Miniano, author of YA novels, Fan Girl and Every Girl’s Guide to Heartache. “Cultural values will always be present in local YA, but now more than ever, the themes are becoming more universal.”
What sets young adult literature apart from other genres in the shelves is how the recognizable elements play a role in making the stories come alive. Characters are recognizable in a way that, like old friends, they go through very familiar problems—the indecision, insecurities, the heartbreak. Its portrayal of scenarios of the teenage life resonates in a way that is both intimate and familiar, it almost seems closely personal.These, and more, are what make YA genuine and heartfelt.
Ines Bautista-Yao, the bestselling author of YA novels, What’s in Your Heart and One Crazy Summer, comments, “What I love about YA is the fact that we too went through similar things when we were teenagers, and when we can relate even more closely to a character, I believe the reading experience is taken to another level.”
If there was something that makes YA truly unique from foreign selections of young adult fiction, it would be its copious capacity to be familiar—-with characters usually immersed in situations not too far from the reader’s, going through the same problems, and growing in the familiar set-up. It awakens something deep inside, whether it be fragments of memories or longing for what could have been
More than words
Though written by different critics, the counter arguments against YA are eerily similar. With thousands of stories by writers both professional and amateur uploaded on websites akin to Wattpad, many young adult stories are stereotyped and dismissed for their seeming lack of originality along with the overuse of tropes and character types.
Other pitfalls that exist in the world of YA is the recurring and seemingly shallow one-dimensional behavior of characters that often leads readers to wonder if there is anything more the work that a ‘cafe tale’. Khiana Sinclair (I, AB-LIT) also remarks that a common misconception about young adult fiction is that it doesn’t qualify as sophisticated reading.
Ines adds about facing connotations that young adult fiction is not ‘real literature’, simply because it’s for young audiences. “I used to pressure myself to read the classics, to read the ‘difficult’ books so I could say that I’ve read so and so. But lately, because I’m older, I choose to read what I like and I have no apologies about that,” she adds. “I like to read books that make me happy…books that are light, fast-paced, those that make me giddy. And the very fact that I am this way means that there are readers who also have a craving for something light or fun, too.”
It’s rather moving the way YA uses fiction, the way it uses life’s most haunting what-ifs into their most far-reaching possibilities. And as reality intersects with art, the outcome isn’t just a story unfolding across the pages—the outcome is a thought-provoking collection of tales that combine the seasons of adventure, growth, and nostalgia in a shelf.
“YA isn’t for everyone, in the same way that science fiction and historical dramas aren’t, either. To dismiss YA as an inferior form of literature would be unfair, because the insight you get from literature is, in part, due to your own interpretation,” Marla points out. “The mind of a grownup character is so much more messy and complex, but that doesn’t mean YA is shallow. Feelings are always valid, and always worth exploring through the written word.”
A new chapter
The point that YA attempts to make, and possibly one of the many reasons behind its appeal, is the honesty it gives in portraying the exhilaration of young emotions. The way it uses teenage experiences into art doubles as a reminder that everyone—regardless of how simple the life that one lives—has a story to tell, and that every person has a story worth hearing.
“I believe that no matter what the culture, tweens and teens everywhere have similar inner struggles. This is why YA appeals to a broad audience,” Ines explains. ”[In YA], I love how the characters are so impressionable, clueless, yet reckless and fearless. When you’re a teenager, everything feels and seems bigger. Your anger, your pain, your heartbreak, your love. The stakes feel so much higher.”
What unites YA stories on common ground is how genuine and authentic its characters experience change. And it makes complete sense—adolescent years, being a period of great epiphanies, losses and discoveries, perhaps cover some of the time of greatest emotional turmoil. It was the period of acquaintance with the first lessons on love and friendship—lessons that you’ll keep through life and through your growth as an individual.
“There’s something triumphant about a coming of age story. Heartbreaks in the YA world seem so monstrously painful, and it’s a good reality check to keep things in perspective. What seems like the end of the world now will not feel as intense in a few years,” says Marla. “We all want to remember our firsts: first love, first heartbreak, first group of friends, first dream we set out to pursue. It helps keep us grounded, and reminds us that things don’t always have to be complicated.”
In YA books’ portrayal of teenage relationships, fiction though it may be, it sheds some light on the truth about the joy, sadness and everything in between that comes along with growing up. Combining culture and teenage turmoil as its prose flows easily along each page, it creates a narrative that surprises as much as it makes you feel understood. And perhaps, the underlying message of every YA’s story—regardless of how many titles there may be—was never truly about how boy meets girl or the thrill of the plot twist. In moments of loss, heartbreak and uplift, the real story of YA is found in the way it reminds us that no matter how different or far apart our lives might be, we’re all on the same page, each a hero of our own stories.