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The YA literature genre was born around the time of WWII when teenagers were given the recognition of being a distinct social demographic. It is not to say that there was no literature for that age group before the early 1900s. There were many novels that attracted the attention of the age group, including The Swiss Family Robinson (1812), Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814), Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1838), and Great Expectations (1860), Alice in Wonderland (1865), Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped (1886), Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (1894), and Moonfleet (1898) by J. Meade Falkner. But the modern classification came into being with the 1967 publication of S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.
20th Century YA
The years between 1967 and 1990 saw a lot of work in the area of understanding teen psychology. This coincided with a large body of work published in the genre of YA lit. In the early years, the focus of YA was mature contemporary realism. Authors like Judy Blume, Lois Duncan, and Robert Cormier portrayed the innocent, yet complex world of high-school children. Other than a few exceptions, like Charlotte’s Web or Chronicles of Narnia, there was not a lot of fantasy fiction written for the YA demographic in the 20th Century.
Something happened in that era, that drastically deterred interest in the YA genre at the time. The books devolved into ‘single problem novels’, dealing with issues like divorce, rape, drugs. The literature became preachy for the age group, and they stopped reading. The early 1990s was the lowest point for the genre, with almost no books being written or published for the YA. Some ascribe this also to the lower birth rate in the mid-70s, leading to lesser young adults in the 90s.
The Phenomenon called Potter
In 1997 was released a book that completely changed the game. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling exploded the category into best-seller lists.
Teens, caught between childhood and adulthood, loved the paradox of the paranormal – a world between the real and the fantastic. The fact that they could hop over to a new realm, but the problems and the lives remained relatable, was very attractive. But, something else happened too. Harry Potter transcended the readership to catch the fantasy of adult readers as well.
The escape that the magical realm provided the reader created such a vacuum for fantasy that much lesser works like The Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer or Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins also received adulation from readers.
Today, YA fiction is legitimized as the proverbial horse to back. Since the phenomenal success of the Potter movie series, Hollywood has taken a special liking towards bringing YA fiction to the screen. From John Green’s Fault in our Stars to Veronica Roth’s Divergent, James Dashner’s The Maze Runner to Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why, almost every decent YA fiction gets some screen time today.
But with commercial success came the cons of excess. YA fiction today is fraught with poor writing, sloppy tropes, and saturation. It is so overpopulated, that it’s hard to discern the actually good from the commercially successful. Another criticism points out that a large segment of adult readers are also turning their attention to YA fiction, taking readership away from the mature content or literary fiction.
But, whatever the criticism, it must be said that YA literature is still doing very well. From V.E. Schwab to Sarah J. Mass, more authors are joining the YA Bestseller bandwagon every day. Katniss and Bella are giving way to Feyre and Jace. And yet, the love for the shining vampires, masked fairies, and fairytale creatures continues unabated. Is it the afterglow of Rowling’s epic success? Or, continued boom? Given that the last Potter book was released a whole decade back, I would lean towards the latter. What are your thoughts on this? Comment below or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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