If you’ve stopped by Goodreads in the past month or so, you’ve doubtless seen ads for PBS’ The Great American Read, hosted by Meredith Vieira. The program, launched earlier this year, is currently publicizing its massive poll of favorite books, spanning a huge range from Harry Potter to Ready Player One to Anne of Green Gables to Looking for Alaska to 1984.
While you’re voting (you should!) I’d encourage you to check out their recently-launched YouTube series for the project. The most recent video, featuring Lindsay Ellis, dives into the history of Young Adult literature.
The video places the beginnings of the genre with Seventeenth Summer, a contemporary novel written by then-teenager Maureen Daly.
The genre division of YA, the video argues, was originally invented by New York librarians and grew through the postwar marketing machine that began to treat teenagers as their own consumer group.
For a while, YA was dominated by paperback contemporaries (like the Babysitter’s Club books and the Goosebumps series) that focused on the real-life concerns of their readers (drinking, dating, and aaangst) and were treated as “low art” by the wider literary community.
That is, until a certian boy wizard “opened the door” (see what they did there) for an explosion of genre fiction in the YA world, loved by teens but read by just as many adults.
The video’s main argument is that, after this Potter-inspired trip through genre fiction, YA has circled back to its origins: contemporary, realistic fiction that echoes the real-life concerns of teen readers. The video cites Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, two of the best-selling recent YA standalones, as proof of this trend.
While the video makes a strong argument, I am not quite convinced. While Ellis dismisses the Hunger Games-led trend of dystopian fiction as a flash in the pan, I continue to see ripples of the dystopia trilogy structure in recent fantasy and adventure releases. Contemporary fiction does seem to be making a comeback–one powered especially by authors of color and #ownvoices stories–but I’m not seeing readers abandon their “genre” reads. I think the royalty checks of writers like Victoria Aveyard and Sarah J. Maas would beg to differ.
You can watch the whole video right here: