Some ten years ago, as a young man still in college, I could proudly claim that I hadn’t read any children’s books since I was, in fact, still a child – largely excepting my personal pet favorite, “The Chronicles of Prydain”. I was an adult, and throughout my teen years and into my early twenties I was reading adult fiction.
But by that point in time, a publishing phenomenon had begun. The Harry Potter books were taking the reading world by storm, and a new movie adaptation of the first book in the series was soon due. I hemmed and hawed and pooh-poohed. I didn’t read children’s books. I was an adult. Other adults might read children’s books, but they were quite beneath me. Such is the folly of a young man straining to be something more than he yet was. (And, I suppose, still yet is.)
And then I saw the movie. And I relented, and I read all the books then extent. And they were fabulous, and I looked back at my amateurish self and cursed him for not relenting sooner, for what sort of childish sop is so elitist and snobbish that they look down their noses at good books just because of how they are marketed?
Since then, the craze has continued, and it has boiled over. I’m not talking about the Harry Potter craze. I’m talking about the YA craze.
It seems that everywhere you look, these days, every time you blink, another new Young Adult or Middle Grades book series is making a big splash and building a huge, loyal following. None, perhaps, as big as the modern progenitor of this trend, but each still impressive in its scope. Even the terms we use to describe these books – Young Adult and Middle Grades – as I recall weren’t in wide usage when Harry Potter began. But there are two facts that make this phenomenon something to take note of: first, adults are reading, embracing and loving these books as much as their children; second, the most successful of these books are almost invariably some flavor of Speculative Fiction.
To wit: first there was Harry Potter. Then there was Twilight. Then the Hunger Games. Along the way there have been others, like the Percy Jackson books, Uglies, Artemis Fowl, Fablehaven, and many others. YA classics (written at a time before “YA” was a named category) like the Narnia books (but sadly not the Prydain books, yet) surged in popularity. Fantasy and Science Fiction, Paranormal, Post-Apocalyptic and Dystopian, Speculative all.
As a huge fan of Speculative Fiction, I find this trend warming and wonderful. I also find it curious. What does it mean when so many of the most popular books in the Speculative Fiction genres are classified as YA? Why are YA speculative books so successful? What is it about these books that resonates not only with the children and youth that are their target audience, but also with full-grown adults?
And, perhaps most importantly, should I write a YA speculative fiction series?
I don’t have answers to these questions, though I wish I did. But I think they’re worth pondering. Tell me, dearest reader, what do you think? What YA books have you read or plan to read? What do you think of these speculative YA books? Why do you think they’re so popular, and why the cross-over appeal with adults?