YA saves

2 Nov


So, I know that this hashtag was incredibly popular among the bookish set over the summer, but the passing of time certainly doesn’t diminish the issue of what YA literature means to teenager culture in the United States and elsewhere. Nor does it make the discussion of why exactly “YA saves” untimely, no matter when it comes up. It’s so important that young people have sources for information that will help cushion whatever falls they will have as they grow. Teens and kids today have to deal with so much negative, difficult stuff from their parents, their teachers, their friends (hello, Mean Girls! That movie might have been fiction, but the idea is real), culture at large, and–in the biggest way–themselves. I can’t fathom why (well, unfortunately, I can fathom why, but I don’t agree) anyone would want to discourage young people from finding communities in the books they read, so that they don’t feel so out of the ordinary in their troubles. How many times as an adult do I hear and say, when something has disappointed me or gone wrong, “You aren’t the only one who has dealt with this and made it through”? This is the lesson and the wisdom that young adult literature teaches, and I would have died to have had it when I was younger. Growing up, I had very little YA to guide me, entertain me, explain things I was too embarrassed to discuss, give me things to dream about and consider. To expose me to things that I didn’t understand about the world but that I needed to know. Now that I’m reading YA so often, I find myself relearning and solidifying those things that I picked up elsewhere, and I’m envious.

Back when this issue was really at the fore, I wrote up a little something about what YA means to me, an adult, and what I hoped young people knew about the literature that is out there for them, but I had nowhere to put it! I really want to share it now because I think demeaning the importance of YA and censoring teens from books that are about less than happy things is so sad and dreadful, and promoting young adult books is never irrelevant.

Dear teens who read books,
I envy you. When I was your age–whatever your age is–I didn’t have half as many wonderful, smart, provocative, heart-warming, true, intense, eye-opening books to read about other kids that would have helped me understand myself and my world and where I fit in all of it as you do. But you know what’s crazy and awesome about life? Even though I haven’t been a teen in a while now, I’m still learning from young people. YA books are still teaching me, even though I’m almost 30 (super YIKES!), how to be a better person, a stronger woman, someone who isn’t afraid of living and being comfortable with herself. The books you are reading now are saving me, too, and I love that we are comrades, getting through things together, you and I. I love and admire that books are the tether to which we are all lashed. Because we’re together on this road, and because I think you are all amazing, I wanted to share some things with you that I think–nay, that I KNOW–about books that I wish someone had told me when I was young about how ALIVE books are, and about the things that I’ve learned from them that I hope you guys one day learn, too. So that when you are the people writing articles in big newspapers about what books mean to young people, you will never say things like, “Books for young people that aren’t happy do more harm than good.” Or “Books about difficult issues encourage kids to do bad things to themselves and others.” Or “We shouldn’t allow our kids to read books about things that are violent and depressing because we don’t want them to know those things exist.” So that someday, you can write the articles that tell the truth: books save people. So that one day, hopefully, everyone will know the things that we know in our hearts: that books saved US, and helped us understand the world in which we lived, made us better citizens of humanity. That books, sometimes, were better parents and friends and teachers than our parents, friends, and teachers. This is what I hope you will know and recognize about books.

You know how people say that X doesn’t come with a manual? Well, that’s certainly true about life. But you know what else? You know those self-help books that are all over the place? Those “Idiots Guide to” whatever? You have TONS of those, did you know? TONS. Except there is no reference to “idiots” in the titles because these guides are incognito, in your libraries, bookstores, online–they’re YA books. And they are all guides for you to pick up and fall into to help you sort out all of the crazy that’s swarming you. Don’t turn your back on them. They want you to be happy and loved and smart and compassionate and strong. Because they know that you deserve all of those things and more. That you ARE those things and more. They would never, ever judge you. They love you. It’s true. They love you so much, and so hard. And here’s another truth: you need them. I know you do. And they want to be there for you. Books are waiting to be your best friend. And you can’t turn your back on someone who will never turn their back on you as long as you will never turn your back on them. If there was a manual about life, that would be on page 1. Be there for each other, and standing tall will be easier. Let the stories in, and they will help you on the inside. All they want is for you to see the truth of them, and give life to their words. Not always the words that they say, but the words that they mean. They know you don’t need to be told not to be harmful to yourself or others. They know that you can handle the bleakness of their stories because we know darkness only exists in books because it’s a real thing that exists for us real people, too. They just want you to take their lessons, whatever they are for you, and live them. They’ll teach you how.

Here’s the thing about good books: even fiction–hell, even fantasy and sci-fi!–have at the very least a taste of truth. Because the people, the characters are dealing with the same things you are. It’s true. Really. That thing that happened to you? They understand it. That person who is treating you badly? They know all about them (even if that person is you…or, well…them). That relationship that is both building you up and driving you crazy? They have one of those, too, and, oh man, it makes them just as nuts. There is truth and companionship to be found in every book. Sometimes it will save you, sometimes it will sympathize with you, sometimes it will reprimand you, sometimes it will rip you apart, and sometimes it will put you back together. Books are keys that open hearts and eyes and doors and windows and everything that is closed to you. Take them. Use them. Open things; let the light in, and the air. And listen to me: Don’t EVER be ashamed of the keys you take and the doors you open. Of the air you let in. If it’s what you need, seize it. You’ll know when you’ve found it. You’re the only one who will know, so if someone tells you, “No, no, you don’t need this book,” or “That book isn’t right for you,” you say, “I’ll be the one to decide that, if you don’t mind, thank you.” You see? The books are already making you feel taller and stronger and prouder than you were before. Because they’re awesome. And they want you to be awesome, too. They see it in you even when you don’t. And it is there, guys. I promise.

I have books that are best friends. Books that I haven’t turned my back on because they haven’t turned their back on me. I needed them, and they needed me, and when we met it was like I was staring into the sun: bright and shining, no darkness to be found, but sometimes it hurt my eyes a little because that’s what best friends do. They sometimes tell you the truth that is hardest to hear, the one that hurts a little. Or, maybe, a lot. And you have to listen, because you know that they are only telling you this because they love you so much. Books can be like that for everyone. So find them, seek them out. And then, teens, love them. Don’t let them go. Read them. Sleep with them. Care for them. Take solace from them. Run away with them (but not literally, friends. Pretty please?) Tell them when they are bothering you. Fight with them. Make up with them. Share them with your other friends (the real people kind). Leave them around the house for your parents to see. TALK ABOUT THEM. Tell other people what your friend has taught you. And something else, friends: Be proud of them. Believe in them. Support them. Don’t be afraid of them. Don’t be ashamed of them. Stand up for them. Fight for them. When other people make fun of them, you call them out on it. Because this is one of your best friends, who has helped you and looked out for you and understood you and loved you with their whole heart.

I know you guys are confused and hurt and curious and scared and sad and anxious and feeling alone. But I also know that you are smart and open-minded and caring and funny and tough and beautiful and capable and LOVABLE. You so are. The books know it, too. So, go get ’em, tigers. Don’t be afraid. Be bold and brave. If you have fallen, books will help you up. They will. If you feel like you’re crumbling, books will fix you up right. I promise. If you just need a minute to go and pretend you are living somewhere else, books will take you wherever you can dream of to go, and then a million other places besides. Go on and find them; they’re waiting to be your pillars. You can do it, guys. I know you can. I believe in you. And when you find your book friends, tell me about them. Introduce us. I can’t wait to meet all of the wonderful, different, crazy, amazing, bright, awesome friends you will make. I want to know them and get to know you, too. To see what incredible young people you are. To learn things from you that will help us navigate this road we’re on together. I’ll introduce you to my friends, too, and hopefully we can all learn from each other, and celebrate our friends and how much they mean to us. How they’ve saved us. How they taught us that the truth, maybe sometimes it hurts and is sad and it makes us feel lost and alone, but it’s never really dark, is it guys? When the alternative is lies, is the truth the worst thing? It seems like it sometimes, right? I know. I do. But the books know better. The books know that truth is LIGHT, like staring into the sun. Being honest and real, even when it’s painful, that’s what a good best friend does for you, loves. It’s important. You don’t deserve any less. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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One Response to “YA saves”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Peace Out, 2011! It’s Been Real: 2011 Book Survey « Tripping Over Books - December 30, 2011

    […] YA Saves. Cheeseball Alert! I wrote this before I even had my blog, when the #yasaves hashtag was newly raging. I don’t know. I felt it, so I wrote it. It’s pretty much…well, it’s cheesy and terrible. And long. But I meant all of it. […]

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