On the day of January 19th, 2016, a Very Important Decision was made that may change the face of everything I once thought I knew… I joined a book club. Apparently, there are some rules associated with the book club and the joining thereof.
Rules of the Book Club
1. You don’t talk about Book Club.
This reference just spoke to me and I felt that to not include it in this blog post would have been a travesty. Seriously though, I am so excited to join a book club and have a group of people I can share my thoughts and opinions on books with and just have a good time.
The first meeting was mostly about establishing the club as an entity and stabilizing the rules and expectations in order to ensure a good experience for everyone involved. We, as a club, decided to call ourselves the Avengers because the chance to tweet out “Avengers Assemble” when it comes time to meet was too good to pass up. The club also came up with some rules regarding participation and civility because we all want this to succeed and having a basic foundation could only help in this regard. After that, we decided upon meeting times and dates, and then we all agreed upon a location before moving on to the topic of reading choices.
We all threw out ideas for books that we would not only like to read but that also met class requirements and then narrowed down the list to one book we wanted to read by the next meeting of the club. For the first club book, we decided to read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. As of yet, we have not met to discuss the book, but I feel that the meeting will be great. The book deals with issues like poverty, young love, and perceptions, among others, and I feel that the members will all have interesting ideas to contribute.
After reading the assigned articles for class, I realized that I was not losing my mind. There are, in fact, numerous tropes that envelope much of the literature written for young adults, and the similarities I kept finding were indeed present. However, it is important to contemplate why there are tropes within the genre and how they have managed to survive for so long. I came to the conclusion that there are two major reasons this might be. First, society may have changed, as will be explored in the next point, but there are fundamental characteristics that endure. Second, the very core of what it means to be a youth, the physical, emotional, and mental changes, will be repeated by every single individual as long as the human race continues to survive and does not undergo some huge evolutionary shift. Adolescents will always fall in and out of love as they grow and learn, their concerns and troubles will seem huge to them because it may their first time experiencing anything of the sort and the unknown is scary, and there are milestones that every adolescent is going to reach at some point and they are going to choose a path, no matter how many there are, that others have taken before them and will take after them.
2. Times may be Changing, but it is still Relatable
Young Adult Literature, even though most consider it to be solely for adolescents, has the ability to speak to readers of all ages. Not only that, but it is, in many ways, almost timeless. At some point or another, each and every one of us was a teenager with teenager problems and teenager hopes and dreams. As such, the topics that were explored, for all that we adults may feel they are “childish”, were ones that we related to regardless of whether or not we wish to admit it. Building upon that premise, it is not that much of a stretch to say that many of the topics evolved from the topics that young adults cared about decades or even centuries ago. With that being said, the supposition can also be made that this could be why the young adult literature we read as teens is still read and still loved in some way, shape, or form and has, in turn, influenced the writing of the ya lit of today.
3. Heteronormativity is Everywhere
While the above point mentions how times are changing, in many ways society is still stuck in the past. Everywhere I look, whether it be books, television shows, or movies, there is an overwhelming number of heterosexual couples being represented. Now, I get that straight couples exist, but so do other kinds of couples as well. Additionally, every time a gay couple, or a lesbian couple, or a couple featuring one or more partners from any area of the LGB+ spectrum, is featured more than once or twice per year, people act like “gayness” is being shoved down their throats and/or is “drowning out” the straight couples. The imbalance is so prevalent, but one of the issues with privilege is that any reduction in it is seen as being disproportionately greater than it truly is. Give me more gay couples, give me more asexual characters, give me more youth questioning their identity because that representation is essential to societal progress. YA literature is slowly changing to meet this need, but not to the extent that it should be. However, I do hold hope for the future and believe that there is a chance for other sexualities to be normalized just as much as heterosexuality.
4. It is Worthy of Attention
For reasons such as relatability and representation, it is essential that attention be brought towards and kept on young adult literature. Not only is it crucial to societal change, but to individual change as well. Without it, adolescents would be lacking a valuable resource in their psychosocial development process. It gives individuals someone to look at and say, “They get it. I’m not alone.” Additionally, it introduces kids and teens to the issues present in their world and gives them a jumping off point to start formulating their own thoughts and opinions. Who knows, hidden within the words and/or images of a book could be the potential for the next President of the United States or even the cure for cancer.
5. Don’t Discredit its Impact on Readers
Last, but not least, there is a point to be made about the impact of ya lit on readers of all ages. As previously mentioned, a book could potentially trigger some of humanity’s greatest achievements, but it would not be possible if they were never written. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that we subvert some of the stereotypes assigned to the genre and overcome the bias against it. It is okay to appreciate the classics for what they are, but how can we as a society continue to grow and thrive if we keep focusing on “classics” from a time period long past instead of assigning new ones that better represent the world and, as such, encourage even more growth and development.
When I was a kid, I was a voracious reader. I would have a book with me almost everywhere I went just waiting for the opportunity to crack it open and lose myself in the words once more. I absorbed anything and everything I could whether it be fiction or nonfiction, children’s stories or young adult literature, academic or nonacademic, I read it all.
However, I could not understand why teachers expected me to start spending all of my free time reading books for class or, at the very least, read books that actually mattered. To be fair, my teachers never said that what I was reading was useless, but the implication was nevertheless there. They didn’t want me to hang out with Junie B. Jones or solve mysteries with the Boxcar Children when they felt my capabilities were more suited towards slogging through Dracula or The Brothers Karamazov. I was only a kid, so I didn’t care about stuffy old books that had entirely too much text devoted to things I felt were irrelevant. Who actually needed to know each minute detail about landscape or social hierarchy to understand the story being imparted? Regardless, I powered through those books because that was what was expected of me.
As a result, I became disenchanted with reading. I stopped cracking open any book I could get my hands on and it took me longer to get through the ones that I did pick up. This issue was only compounded when teachers began to enforce the canon on me and my choices. For those of you who don’t know, the canon is made up of the books that we have been told are “classics” and the “genius” authors that everyone should read because they represent a collection of the most important works ever written or something like that. In reality, they are a collection of authors that are an extension of the power dynamic represented by those choosing the canon. To clarify, basically it is a bunch of old, cisgender, heterosexual, white men telling everyone that other old, cisgender, heterosexual, white men are the greatest writers and have written the greatest works and those works should be placed on a pedestal and everyone should study them and never question them.
Anyway, as a teen I could never fully get behind that since I was a young, pansexual/demiromantic woman who had spent 67% of my life at that point living below the federal poverty line. I couldn’t relate to the books I was reading beyond an abstract understanding of the historical social issues being represented, and this limited my passion for those aforementioned canonized books and authors to just bland aestheticism.
This spurred the literary extension of my teenage rebellion where I began to read more and more internet-based fiction, namely fanfiction, in order to step away from the literature that had been imposed on me for so many years. This allowed me to enjoy different points of view and reworkings of book series, movies, and television shows that I had enjoyed as a child and as a teen. My forays into these works also triggered more and more research into my identity and the world I lived in as I became more entrenched in different internet communities.
Therefore, it was only natural that I got into slam poetry and how it was impacting the literary scene. I saw people writing and performing pieces about gender, sexuality, poverty, womanhood, and other topics that I had been denied through the enforcement of the aforementioned canon. Here, at last, were people I could relate to and understand. As such, it can indeed be said that my adolescence represented a transformation in my personal and literary identities.
To sum up, there are five things that categorize my time as an adolescent reader. Number one, people started telling me to read the books that mattered. Number two, they then tried to enforce the canon upon me. Number three, I could not relate to the canon or the books that “mattered”, so I lost my passion for reading. Number four, my love of reading was partially rekindled through the discovery of fanfiction. Number five, the flames were fanned even more through when I found out about slam poetry.