The Importance of Diverse Young Adult Literature

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Reading nearly a dozen young adult novels over the last few months has put a huge spin on my reading life. I previously considered Young Adult novels to be full of angst, drama, and stereotypes worthy of a dramatic eye roll. Not kidding. Clearly, I wasn't picking up the right books. Thinking back, I'm not even sure what gave me these impressions, but clearly I was tainted. Although not completely wrong.

I'm currently taking a class called, "Teaching Young Adult Literature" for graduate school. I'm halfway through a Masters in English, and most every class thus far has left an impact on me, but none so much as this one. We are required to read six diverse YA novels that have a central controversial topic. So far I've just been picking up everything that's been of interest to me from the reading list. I've only put down two. The professor made this list for us, if you're interested in seeing the reading selection. I've loved Eleanor & Park, Turtles All the Way Down, The Sun is Also A Star, and Brown Girl Dreaming. I read many others that weren't on the reading list, but some of which she discussed as we started the course and learned the history of YA literature: The Outsiders was an amazing read, and The Smell of Other People's Houses was a great coincidental library find.

What I've learned is this: YA novels can actually mean something. These books discuss difficult topics that better reflect the real world. The actual genre has been dubbed "New Adult," and holds value for topics that are important in today's society. Many of the books that are being published are giving a voice to minority writers. Not only are we seeing a growth in diverse writers, but in diverse characters as well.

What shocked me the most was that I nearly snubbed an entire genre of literature based on a few books that simply weren't for me. There are seemingly infinite books within each genre, and they are always worth exploring more. From books written in verse, poetry, fiction and non, I've felt like I've really learned something about literature as a whole. I could go on and on about the importance of what I've learned over the last month of taking this course, but I'll spare you. Mostly, I just want to encourage you to try something new, pick up something you don't think you'll like or are wary to try, you just might be surprised.

Additional resources:

Chimamanda is not only a great writer, but has this phenomenal TED Talk. I'm reading this book of hers this month.

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