It can be difficult for a former English major to stop herself from distinguishing between hi and lo forms of literature. However as a future librarian and a current book-recommended I have learnt that literature can be “good” for many different reasons. I am starting to realize that this is particularly important to keep in mind when recommending books to teens.
Some theorists hold onto the idea that YA materials can serve as “gateway” books to bigger and better things, aka the classics. Coats’ chapter “Growing Up, In Theory” mentions Herz and Gallo’s book From Hilton to Hamlet which proposes that YA novels can be used to help students apply concepts from the classics to their daily lives. This sounds vaguely like a variation of an argument I’ve heard before: any reading is good reading because it might lead to better reading.
Something these theorists should be reminded of is that most teenagers have different priorities than adults. A teenager might be reading for vastly different reasons than an adult. They might be reading for self-discovery, curiosity, social education, or a multitude of other personal and sensitive reasons. I feel like Classics advocates may be missing the point – just because it’s not art, doesn’t mean it’s not good. As readers grow and mature, the needs they are fulfilling by reading will change as well. This may mean a shift from reading to fulfill a curiosity about sexuality and love, to reading to fulfill an internal battle about the meaning of life. Everyone’s maturation progresses at a unique pace and manifests itself in a different way. Theorists shouldn’t expect every reader’s motivation to mirror their own.
Of course there is immense value in teaching some classics in a high school English class. Studying hi literature can help anyone develop important skills such as critical analysis, observance, empathy, artful expression, and potentially a deeper understanding of one’s self. However, that’s not everyone’s idea of “reading for pleasure.” And I imagine most teens asking for recommendations at a public library are looking to fulfill other needs within themselves besides developing a taste for the Bronte sisters. Some of them might be! And every librarian should be ready to best suit the needs of the patron, whether or not she herself would deem the book “good.”
The main thing I’ve taken away from the YA novels I’ve read this month and the readings on YA trends is this: Being a teenager is hard enough already. Any book that can give any reader a moment of joy, understanding, motivation, or wonder – regardless of it’s hi or lo status – is a “good” book.