Digital Book World reported in October 2014 that young adult and children’s books are the biggest factor driving the growth of trade publishing.
Hollywood’s been snatching up YA and middle grade titles at an unprecedented rate.
So what gives? How come the whole world is suddenly paying attention to books written for teenagers?
Because they do things that adult books don’t do anymore. Things that people really, really need.
Specifically, they have three important components that have been discouraged out of adult literature, especially the stuff that’s considered OH-SO-SERIOSO.
1. YA novels are plot-oriented.
A plot consists of events that lead logically from one to the next based on character’s choices and motivations. It is purposeful.
It is not just “things that happen.” Most novels have some kind of things happening (although it’s pretty hard to tell in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day and Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea . . .).
A series of accidents does not make a plot.
It’s tough to find plot-oriented fiction in the adult world anymore, except in genre fiction like mystery and fantasy. Good old mainstream lit tends toward the “slice of life” or the “stream of consciousness” approach — good stories are frowned upon.
2. Main characters of YA novels are, if not always heroic, then at least unambiguously good.
That doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes. But in general, they are moral and trying hard to figure out what it means to be good and to do it.
In contrast, it can be difficult to find main characters of non-genre adult novels who are not addicts, cheaters, liars, cavalier adulterers, serial killers, or, at best, not doing much of anything.
Related: Why It’s Totally Cool to Have Heroes
3. Happy endings are normal and expected.
In realistic adult literature, all three of these things have been demonized and driven out.
Adults are “not supposed to” want exciting adventures that show intrepid men and women overcoming obstacles. We are not supposed to long for greatness. We are supposed to have put our silly, grandiose dreams away. We are supposed to have grown out of all that.
Adulthood is a time for books that “make you think” — that is, that serve as a mindfuck rather than an inspiration. It is time for books that show us how dark and depraved life really is. It is time for books about addicts in halfway houses, books about the rape of children, and worse, books that are just intelligible enough that you can sort of read them, but you sure as hell won’t know what it was about when you’re done.
But what if . . . what if, under all the striving to pretend not to care, what if people still have a little kid on the inside? What if people still WANT heroes and plots and happy endings? What if, in fact, these things are a fundamental NEED for the human spirit — even for those poor jaded creatures we call adults (or maybe ESPECIALLY for them)?
What IF that is actually the best purpose of art in all its forms — to inspire? To show true values in concrete form and evoke an emotional struggle that ends with hope?
To provide fuel for the striving in life?
To keep that intrepid, happy, heroic spirit burning, so that we might remain childlike, into adulthood and old age, and achieve the greatness we envisioned when we were young?
Well, then you might find a lot of adults reading books for teenagers.