For some people, it’s romantic novels, bodice-ripping ones with swashbuckling pirates who secretly just want to be loved. For others, it’s comic books or graphic novels. Some choose science fiction stories; others have piles of beach read historical fiction paperbacks.
I’m talking about guilty pleasure reads, the ones that you always have going on your nightstand, though when someone asks you, “What are you reading right now?” they’re never the ones you cite.
Well, I’m changing that.
My name is Emily, and I’m a closet YA addict.
Short for Young Adult, YA fiction is the genre that spawned Twilight, The Hunger Games, and at least the last three of the Harry Potter novels. It’s a genre that focuses on the trials and tribulations of the 12-19 set, and though I’m 29 (and closer to 30 than to 28), I love it.
While I spend time with books like My Brilliant Friend or Brave New World or Les Particules élémentaires, soaking up nuance and letting myself remain on a page for ten minutes or more, when it comes to YA, I’m the reading machine I was in middle school, devouring books hungrily (particularly when I have the next in the series at my elbow).
That isn’t to say that YA is poorly written. Of course, there are some duds, like with anything, but a lot of YA fiction, especially nowadays, is phenomenally well-written. Orleans is one such book, a dystopian novel with a well-honed main character who, unlike many of her YA dystopian peers, is much more interested in surviving the apocalypse than falling in love (in fact, there is refreshingly no romance in the whole book). There’s the work of Ellen Hopkins, too, 400-page plus tomes that are written in verse with extremely unreliable, yet identifiable, narrators.
(And yeah, there’s also Twilight. Full disclosure: I read them all.)
The only tough part about having such a voracious appetite for YA is that I apparently look my age, and the YA section of my local library is hidden away in a little nook, near the kids’ section.
Once, the children’s librarian caught me trying to open the door,which had been locked during a function.
“Oh, sorry,” I said. “Is it opened?”
“Yes…” she said, looking me up and down. “But it’s opened for teens.”
I muttered something about research for my current book, grabbed the next tome in the Splintered series, and sprinted out of there.
I’m much sneakier about getting my fix these days.
As for what I love so much about YA, it’s hard to say. Maybe I like the fact that everything seems important. Unlike much of modern literary fiction, which so often lingers on monotony, on what happens when nothing is happening, YA fiction turns even the smallest of slights into a story arc. I know from reading hundreds of articles and books about craft that this propels readers into the story, but knowing how it works doesn’t make it any less effective.
I also love the current trend of retelling classic fairy tales in long-form. I’ve read pretty much every Alice in Wonderland incarnation out there, but also retellings of Beauty and the Beast, Peter Pan, and Cinderella, just to name a few. Throw a fairy tale at me, and I’m ready to go.
And for that matter, throw a Greek mythology retelling at me, and I’m happy – especially if it’s the story of Persephone. Luckily, she appears frequently in YA, from obvious retellings like The Heroes of Olympus to artful homages like A Company of Swans, where the heroine eats pomegranate seeds in hopes that they’ll keep her from being forced to return home.
Eggplant with Yogurt Sauce and Pomegranate (serves 2)
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Halve the eggplants. Rub them all over with the teaspoon of olive oil, season with salt, and place them face down on a nonstick baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes, turning over halfway through the cooking process.
Meanwhile, stir together the yogurt, garlic, and remaining olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
When the eggplant are cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Spread with the yogurt sauce, and sprinkle pomegranate seeds over the top.