When I was about nine years old, my mother started to realise that books for kids my own age were too easy for me and so didn't capture my attention. She made the decision to encourage me to read books aimed at an older audience, and inevitably I started reading teen fiction.
Back then (we're talking the late 90's here) teen fiction was mostly Judy Blume, Paula Danziger and their ilk. Some of the books dealt with big issues ('The Cat Ate My Gymsuit' is a prime example) and yet I never truly connected with the characters. Their lives seemed so distant from my own, their American up-bringing so alien in comparison with my 'it's grim up North' English childhood.
But, I did learn A LOT from these teen novels. Most of my sex education and information on puberty came from these books. I learnt about politics and bullying and feminism. It was an interesting education.
And yet I can't help but feel I missed out on something.
Today's Young Adult fiction is incredible. The market has evolved so much since I was a teenager. Young Adult novels are grittier now, full of strong female protagonists and subjects that would have seemed taboo two decades ago. Young Adult writers talk about suicide, rape, incest, depression. Their characters are gay or disabled, even dying in some cases. They are wise and full of passion. And they go on amazing inner journeys to find themselves. The characters in today's Young Adult fiction are inspiring. And I wish that these books had been around to help me on my way to adulthood when I was fourteen and struggling with my identity.
The Young Adult market is a difficult one. Writers have to cater to a core audience with a lot going on in their lives. Teens (especially boys) can be reluctant readers. So how do YA writers manage to pull in the fans? As I've already said, they're writing about the things their audience are dealing with themselves, the characters tend to be well fleshed out, as real as the people we know in our real lives. The writing is usually taut, fast-paced and gripping, and the plots are rarely flabby in the middle section like their Adult counterparts can be.
For me though, one of the things I like best about YA titles, and the thing that often draws me to them in the first place is the cover. YA books have amazing cover art. Take 'Paper Towns' for example. That's a great cover. Laid out on those presentation tables they have in book stores, it really caught my eye. It was the same with' The Moth Diaries', the beautiful cover just called to me.
I think the main reason I love Young Adult fiction so much is the realism, the fact that when I'm reading a YA title, I'm reminded of my own teen years. I can identify with and understand the characters. The books speak to me.
And that is why I unashamedly purchase and read Young Adult fiction, despite being well into my 20's.