I’ve read a lot of Young Adult books over the years. Even before I started this blog, the vast majority of books I read were YA. Now, I’m not sure if the YA age range is for me anymore. Don’t get me wrong- I know there are a lot of adults who read YA and that’s fine, I’m not judging. I was just thinking back to the YA books I read over the years and realized that plenty of the books I enjoyed a year or two ago wouldn’t be books I’d rate as highly now. I still have a lot of respect for the genre as it played a huge part in my reading over the years but sometimes, there’s a point where I have to move on.
Was the problem because I stopped relating to Young Adult books? No. I don’t think you need to relate to a book (or even like) to enjoy it. I have trouble relating to Young Adult books, especially the contemporary ones simply because my experiences were vastly different. I went to college at 15 and law school at 19. I didn’t exactly have whatever ‘teenage experience’ was being portrayed in books because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all when it comes to people. Relatability wasn’t the issue.
Was it because I read too many fantasy books and burnt out on the genre as a whole? I don’t know, maybe. Still, as much as I enjoyed many diverse YA Fantasy books, I’m not sure if I’d be reading as many of those in the future. Not the diverse part, the YA Fantasy part. Recently, I started thinking of how my tastes in reading may have changed.
A year or two ago, I may not have imagined burning out on SFF and that many of the books I was interested in reading, I’d think have cheesy plots. Or that I wouldn’t care so much about world-building and magic systems in favor of prose and plots. So many books have ‘clear’ or ‘workman-like’ prose and in a lot of cases, there isn’t anything wrong with those. It’s just that after reading so many books with the same sort of prose over and over again, I wanted something else.
Most of the YA Fantasy I read and enjoyed were as I said, written by POC. Most of them also have more ‘literary’ or ‘flowery’ prose. Some of those books, I’d note, were panned for their prose. Personally, I like beautiful prose, the more literary, the better. I do get however why it isn’t common in YA- the writing style isn’t always suited for teens. It may not be what they’re looking for and as the target market, YA books should be written for them. I mean, I was a teenager as of last year and I wasn’t looking for literary prose then. That’s fine with me and as a consumer, I can also afford to be picky.
I think back to books like N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, or Joan He’s Descendant of the Crane, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, and Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao- all of these books have beautiful prose which wasn’t for everybody, but I gave all of these books 4-5 stars in large part because the writing style in these books were more literary. Again, not for everybody (especially in the case of The Fifth Season which was a little more experimental) but I loved them.
The last SFF book I read was Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter. It was a classic work of fantasy and perhaps a progenitor of the modern genre. A little hard to get into at first but the prose was very beautiful and poetic. It was also more on the romantic side and a little low magic, but I really enjoyed it a lot, because it had the kind of writing style you could just immerse yourself in and savor over a few days.
Recently, I’ve been watching Ted-Ed’s ‘Why You Should Read’ series and other non-YA booktubers and I’ve discovered many titles I’m interested in. Books I’ve never heard of and books I’ve heard about but previously dismissed as something which may not be to my taste, I’m taking a second look at now. Examples include Flannery O’ Connor’s work, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Toni Morrison’s books, Haruki Murakami’s work…There were a lot of books that I’ve passed on before that I’m now becoming interested in.
Before, I used to roll my eyes at the term ‘literary fiction’ and thought it sounded boring and pretentious. I’ve been told that the category refers to books which say something about the human condition- as though it couldn’t be explored in SFF as well. I still think that SFF books can also explore the human condition but literary fiction is more concerned with writing style and experimentation. Trying to expand my reading list to include books in this category also led me to realize that I was wrong for being dismissive. The litfic category is also full of works with diverse themes and diverse authors and many books in the category really aren’t acclaimed for nothing.
Lately, I’ve been looking at which books have won literary prizes and noting them down, rediscovering my fascination with Russian literature, and also wanting to explore more literature in translation. Of course, this meant that my TBR pile grew larger again but I’m pretty excited to read the books I have on my list. There’s a lot of interesting books I discovered that I’d probably find pretentious before but now want to take a look at.
Once I’m no longer burnt out on SFF and looking to read more, I’d definitely check out more literary SFF. I’ve heard good things about some classic SFF and newly-released books and I’d love to read them and see for myself.
Will I no longer read books for Young Adults? Of course not. I’d still read YA, just not as much as I used to and mostly those recommended by those I trust. I think this has been coming ever since I realized I like Adult SFF more than YA SFF in terms of how the books are structured and written. Continuing to read more ‘adult’ books in different genres just feels like a natural evolution when it comes to my reading.