My Parents Never Let Me Read YA Because They Said They Weren’t ‘Real’ Books

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The first time I brought a YA book to my grandmother to read to me, she told me it was stupid.

“Who is this girl?” my grandmother flipped around the cover and stared at some tween girl with pigtails and braces. “This book is stupid.”

I don’t remember what book it was now, although I recall the plot being something along the lines of scifi and The Babysitter’s Club. I was about eight years old and sitting on her bed in my pajamas, I felt ashamed of my literary selection.

The first college graduate of my family, and an English major, my grandmother always had very strong opinions regarding literature, including YA. Both she and my father scoffed at the genre when I was growing up, as they found the style unnecessary for bright and capable young readers.

My family subscribed to the notion that reading was not innately difficult (with dyslexia and other learning diabilities aside, of course). Abstract concepts and perhaps specific vocabulary could be hard for children to comprehend, but that’s why my family insisted that I read with a dictionary close by.

According to my grandmother, YA and abridged versions of classics belitted the reading capabilities of kids, conveying to them that weren’t smart enough tackle “real” books.

I’m one of few kids I think who was given a copy of Little Women in the fourth grade. I read Edgar Allen Poe poems through most of elementary school and by the time I was 11 years old, I could recite the opening of “The Raven” by heart. I fell in love with Oscar Wilde by the middle of junior high and decided that The Picture Of Dorian Gray was my favorite book in the eighth grade.

As an adult,  I don’t believe that YA books are not “real literature” — whatever that means. YA is a celebrated genre with its own literary superstars, big sellers, publishing accolades, and fan base. But I have to admit, not having YA around my house played in big factor in me developing strong reading skills as a kid. I was not terrified by long or “grownup” books, as the divide between what I could read and what my family could read never existed. As a result, there was no novel, short story, or poem that I felt I couldn’t handle.