Think back to middle school or high school. For some, it may not have been too long ago, for others, it may feel like a lifetime ago. What was popular at the time? What novels or television shows were big? What lessons did they teach, or what experiences did they contain that connected to the youth? Most importantly, did these popular forms of entertainment leave a lasting impact on the youth? Was it a good or bad impact?
What is Young Adult fiction? Why is it so popular?
Young Adult fiction is an expansive genre of media that is predominantly aimed for individuals in their adolescents, though many consumers of the genre are adults as well.
Oftentimes these novels contain love, relationships, friendships, identity, and “coming of age” themes and adolescent characters. These themes can help connect a reader to the characters, whether they’re the main focus of the story or within the subtext. They can be important in the lives of many, as they can help someone understand themself and have something to relate to.
What are its downsides?
However, these themes also hold the ability to cause lasting harm on readers. Particularly, novels like the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher hold the most power in this regard, as they are set in somewhat grounded settings: Twilight may be a bit of a stretch, since as far as we know vampires and werewolves don’t exist, however, it is a novel that contains strong themes of relationships that left an impact on many, particularly in 2007. Many young individuals at the time were on a figurative team for which love interest they liked better in the series.
The Twilight series is one of the more famous (possibly outdated) examples of how the theme of love and relationships could negatively affect a young reader, however. In the series, the romantically involved characters Edward and Bella have a near obsessive relationship. Additionally, there is another character in the romantic love triangle, Jacob, who is also obsessively in love with Bella.
Why is it a concern?
Typically, older readers will recognize the obsessive parts of the characters relationships as unhealthy, and know that a relationship should not have such obsessive behaviors within it, but a young adolescent may not have the experience or understand that the type of behavior Edward and Jacob possess over Bella is dangerous, and may end up romanticizing the idea of being fought over or pursuing an individual who refers to themselves as ‘dangerous’. This is where a novel may affect the real life of the reader, as their ideas or views on what a relationship should look like are changed by the romanticized partnership in the novel.
While this may be an extreme assumption, English professor Candence Malhiet Robillard at Virginia Tech wrote that in her fall semester of 2007 many of her female students “saw nothing surprising or questionable about Bella’s and Edward’s relationship. It seemed normal to them that a girl would alter almost every area of her life for a boyfriend”.
To say that fiction affects reality is a subjective statement, as with anything– different things will affect different people differently. However, when creating content or writing content for adolescents and young adults, the author should keep in mind the messages they’re sending to their targeted audience. Young Adult fiction can be great for giving young minds something to connect and relate to, but if left unattended, could also cause the young readers to romanticize unhealthy behavior.