I can’t pinpoint when I first picked up Young Adult fiction because I think I just never stopped. During my degree it was my way of balancing Sophocles and Derrida. I would escape into a Harry Potter every couple of weeks for four years (by the time I’d graduated I’d read the first four seven times… I’m a speed reader) .
Now, I think I read YA Fiction both for the escapism and the hope that I will find characters worth shouting about. Too often the girls are weak and the boys are bland. I seem to be in constant search for great characters, strong plot lines and a touch of romance to sweeten the deal. What I really want is Buffy but unfortunately not everything can be written by Joss Whedon (I know, I don’t like admitting that either).
The Twilight Series obviously has a massive fan base across different age groups and even I will admit to watching the films for a bit of unthinking entertainment. However, when I read them a few years ago I was so frustrated by the Bella character that I could only make myself continue reading to keep the hope alive that there would be some sort of character development. By the end she arguably does get some backbone (and teeth!) but by then she’s been used as a morality tale for sex before marriage, the dangers of female sexuality and the importance of deferring to your man. At least in the second book she gets to have a bit of fun and be a bit reckless but she is continually punished for it and ends up running back to her ever controlling, blandly written man boy.
My problem with Twilight isn’t just with Bella but with the two dimensional male characters too, it’s so important for girls and feminism that the male characters are as complex as the girls. Adolescence is a difficult time and it’s healthy for teenagers to learn about each others dreams and fears.
There are many other imitations of this world but I picked Twilight because it’s the most well known.
A series I was both surprised and impressed by is The House of Night by P.C & Kristen Cast. While the boy characters are still a bit on the thin side the girls are a good mix of high school stereotype but with many layers which develop as the series goes on. One of the things which works particularly well is the way sex is handled. There are dangers and it is not taken lightly but neither is her virginity treated as a mythical thing. The series isn’t perfect but definitely takes the teenage vampire genre in the right direction.
And then there is The Hunger Games. Just brilliant. Please don’t let the hype put you off, this is a world worth reading about. It’s both political and progressive. It does the best thing a book like this can do, it makes you ask questions. The characters are well developed, interesting and intelligent and it leaves you feeling like the author respects the reader. I urge you to read this if you haven’t already and for goodness sake – GIVE IT TO YOUR TEENAGERS!
I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade and if you’re a Twilight fan good luck to you but I do think it’s important to respect our young people more by giving them great writing to read. Hell, encourage them to start writing their own! *stares blissfully into space thinking about Buffy fan fiction*
Teenage fiction is a really vibrant area of the publishing industry with many, many cross over books like His Dark Materials and indeed Harry Potter. I don’t completely adhere to this idea that we should be encouraging children to read anything, as long as they’re reading right? Well, ok, I can see the logic behind it but why not just try harder? I could wax on for many, many more pages but I’ll leave you with this: With the images and questionable role models our teenagers are bombarded with daily, isn’t it important that we hold YA fiction up to a higher standard?