Rick Riordan, author of the wildly popular, young-adult focused “Percy Jackson” series, recently came out with a new book titled Magnus Chase and The Wolf of Winter. I’m a Junior in college studying English and Physics, preparing to enter the real world as a full adult… and I snapped up Magnus Chase with absolute delight. This isn’t my first experience with Rick Riordan either. From the moment the very first Percy Jackson book came out when I was the sixth grade, I’ve been utterly addicted, reading every single title within weeks of publication. I don’t tell most people this, though, because there’s something of a stigma around Young Adult novels. They’re considered a lower class of literature, something to be read for fun but never quite taken seriously. However, I fully intend to read authors like Riordan well into adulthood, because I truly believe there are a great many reasons to take them seriously.
First off, it’s in no way true that high literature and books intended for young adults are mutually exclusive categories. After all, consider books like The Little Prince or To Kill a Mockingbird. Both of these books ostensibly take young adults as their intended audience, and both of them are incredibly valuable works of art. As evidenced by the fact that there are multitudes of award named after The Little Prince and the practically mandatory presence of To Kill a Mockingbird on middle school English reading lists, these children’s books contribute meaningfully to the literature of the world. High literature can be written for children, and it already has been.
Even young adult novels that aren’t considered high literature are worth reading, though. On the one hand, they’re simply incredible fun to read, engaging and fast-paced and easy to grasp in a way that no other genre of literature can quite match. They’re written largely to entertain, after all, and their style reflects that. But this entertainment value doesn’t mean these books are bereft of meaning or message. Quite to the contrary, authors like JK Rowling or Rick Riordan or Terry Pratchett, as their legions of dedicated fans (including myself) could tell you, actually share powerful messages as topics as diverse as corrupt governments, the potential in all of us, and the value of friendship. What young adult novels do so well is deliver these messages in an entertaining way, in a way that makes readers devour and digest these messages eagerly and easily. They are, we need to recognize, incredibly powerful vehicles of meaning.
C.S. Lewis wrote an epigraph to his niece Lucy in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, which said “you are already to old for fairy tales… But someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” I believe we should take Lewis’s advice, and start treating Young Adult novels like the very real pieces of literature that they are. After all, their authors approach them with the same gravity and care the Dickens or Austen approached their novels. Maybe it’s time we did something of the sam
With Excitement and Optimism,