From John Keats to John Green: Why I love Y/A fiction

Reflecting on her reading habits and growing HECS debt.

Art by Ellie Stephenson.

When I was 10, my dad read me Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. As he was reading, I held Burnett’s world in the palm of my hand and saw every part of the garden in its technicolour beauty. I’ve always felt like I carried the garden around with me, like one day I would form a world of my own and finally leap from its pages. 

Like many searching for a place to conquer their literary desires, I chose to study English at university. Whilst this choice was perhaps an unwise collaboration of naivety and budding intrigue, I was glad to be doing something I was actually interested in. The first novel I distinctly remember reading was Homer’s Odyssey. Homer was pretty ballsy, writing 300 odd pages on Odysseus- who gets a three sentence summary in The Iliad’s Sparknotes page. I’m not here to write an in depth critique on a book written over 1000 years ago, but I do want to highlight that this book may just have been the beginning of the end. 

By the 4th year of my 3 year degree I was turned off by even the thought of reading. I found myself incessantly analysing every text  I turned to. Is Tarantino’s blatant foot fetish really an homage to early Marxist theory? Does the green curtain really just symbolise envy? Is the Rainbow Fish a queer visionary? And what was my Klepstad Ikea wardrobe manual really trying to tell me?

Late last year I was wandering through a book shop, the name of which I won’t disclose (this is an unsponsored post so no name dropping) when I stumbled upon They Wish They Were Us. I was enticed by the plaid cover and the solid 3.5/5 it boasts on Goodreads.  It chronicles a group of 17 year olds finding out what really happened to their friend that fateful summer 5 years ago. It was riveting, enticing and most importantly- completely devoid of anything complex. 

There is a certain peace in the incessant tropes of Y/A fiction that is hard to find in other forms of literature. Protagonist’s are beautiful outsiders, whose parents are constantly out of town; they are high achievers who have fallen in love with someone unexpected. Perhaps they have just moved to a new school and their history teacher has been acting a bit strange since their new friend went missing. Y/A fiction is often cringey, blatantly unoriginal and entirely formulaic; it was just what I needed. 

I never discovered if Moby Dick really was just a euphemism for the heightened male ego…maybe I’ll never know. What I do know, however, is that I will continue reading, just so long as they remake the book into a feature film starring Halsey.

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