Caitlin Considers: The Importance of Contemporary YA
I have revived my discussion posts in honour of our Contemporary Summer event and today I want to look at the importance of Contemp YA to those who read it. Now you might be wondering why Contemp YA is any more important than any other forms of YA. And maybe it isn't, in terms of writing, plots, characters etc. But I think it has some importance in the terms that this particular genre, probably more than others, can help us come to terms with things about ourselves, our situations, or can teach us things that we probably need to know.
Now, this can be fairly light things; if you look at the Georgia Nicholson series by Louise Rennison, I reckon that probably taught me a lot about how to (and how not to) talk to boys. It also taught me to never put a blonde streak in my own hair with peroxide. You learn a lot about the regular stressors of growing up from reading about people, albeit fictional characters, doing the same thing. In general, these sort of books can help you feel like you are totally and perfectly normal. So what if you haven't kissed a boy by 16, or if you hair just WILL NOT STAY STRAIGHT. There'll be a character somewhere, in some Contemporary YA novel on some shelf whose hair will also not stay straight and who has never kissed a boy. Being a teenager can be fairly difficult, and being shown that whatever you're going through is totes fine, is very very relieving,
There's a more serious side to Contemporary fiction though, As well as helping us with the more obvious things about being a teenager, contemp fiction can also help with the things that, whilst still completely normal, are harder to deal with, more isolating, more affecting, and/or carry more stigma.Issues such as bullying, mental illness, grief, eating disorders, self-harm and a wide range of other topics have been covered in an array of YA books. Now I'm not just talking about 'issue' books, but actual contemp fiction where the MC or another character, is dealing with something that we probably deal with ourselves at some point in our lives, but can seem especially bad as a teen or young adult. I don't think anyone can ever express the relief you can feel at reading a book where a character is coping with the same thing you're coping with, feeling the same thing you're feeling. When talking about this sort of thing, I tend to bring up Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta. Which, if you haven't read, you absolutely should. I was going through a similar, albeit far from identical situation as Francesca in this novel, and reading it did, and still does, make me feel better. This book makes me feel less alone, less sad, less angry. It helps me accept my feelings and my situation, helps me cope better and leaves me to feel there is light at the end of the tunnel. This is the power of Contemporary YA in particular, though I would never say that no other form of fiction contains it.
Even if you're not going through the same situation as the characters in the book, reading about theirs, sharing their pain and experiences can be cathartic in itself. I haven't experienced what Harper in Saving June had, for example, but I could identify with her through her narration and that has a special sort of power in itself.
How do you guys feel about this? Do you think Contemporary fiction is better placed to help us, or do you think all fiction can? Is there a particular book that you read in the right place at the right time that's stayed with you, or one you go back to whenever you're in need of some comfort or reassurance?