Why I love young adult books
When I was younger, I was obsessed with magic.
Not the rabbit-out-of-a-hat kind, but magic magic - witches and powers and the supernatural. My sisters and I loved anything a little bit whimsical, a little bit strange. We watched films like The Craft and Practical Magic, and TV shows like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Charmed.
It was the same with books. I greedily ate up anything that transported me to another world. Like every kid of our age, I remember the Christmas I unwrapped Harry Potter, but it started a long time before that: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Faraway Tree.
I wanted to create something magical of my own, and I wrote my first book when I was 12. It was 500 pages of painstakingly handwritten (and hilarious) prose, about a girl who climbs into a washing machine and finds another world.
But then, something changed as I grew up. I studied English Language and Literature at university and became very serious about books. We barely had any time to read for pleasure, so my days were filled with Victorian tomes and lyrical Beatnik rambles and Russian tragedies. In short, I became a bit of a book snob, and started to read what I thought I should, instead of what I enjoyed. No more magic.
This translated into my writing: I kept trying to get a book written, but I was so hemmed in by what I thought it was that I should be writing. I had such high expectations for this non-existent book of mine, such high literary standards that it would never be able to live up to, that everything I ended up producing was painful and staccato, convoluted and try-hard.
And then one day, I decided to just write whatever came into my head, and a young adult fantasy novel came out. Magic and witches and all things weird and wonderful. It all came tumbling out in the space of two months, and felt so much more natural than anything I'd tried to write previously.
I realised that this was because magic and fairytales were the kinds of things that got me into reading in the first place. They formed my tastes at an early age.
So, for research, I let myself dip into YA fiction instead of dismissing it offhand. I read Laini Taylor, Leigh Bardugo, Rainbow Rowell. And I fell in love.
What I discovered is that there is so much imagination, so much creativity and such mastery of craft that goes into young adult fantasy, in a way that's so much more universal and accessible than other forms of literature. These books are far from pedestrian or "juvenile" - in Bardugo's Six of Crows duology alone you'll find serious topics like sexual abuse and PTSD.
YA fantasy books may not be as "challenging" for adults as other forms of literature, but in terms of escapism, imagination and world-building, I've found the genre to be unparalleled. Don't get me wrong, I don't just read YA fantasy, but I'm so glad I started to.
Do you read YA fantasy? If so, what would you recommend?