Young Adult fiction treads a fine line. On the one hand, it needs to be in touch with its audience. YA readers want to see protagonists who speak realistically, eat realistically, and act realistically.
On the other hand, reading offers us the opportunity to live different lives; to travel to places and settings and adventures that we may never have, and very few people want to read about a normal, boring setting. (Although I am told that Patrick Ness’ The Rest of Us Just Live Here addresses this very well, I’ve not yet read it.)
So every once in a while, I see reviews of YA books lamenting, “That’s just not realistic”. It’s just not realistic for two teenagers to hop on a plane without parental supervision. It’s just not realistic for a teenager to bring down a human-trafficking cartel.
Sci-fi and fantasy tend to have an easier time in this regard, as they are by definition not expected to be realistic. Even so, Harry Potter books are sometimes accused of being unrealistic because Harry, Hermione, and Ron are so good as child-wizards at fighting other dark wizards.
I’m not here to refute or support any of these claims.
I’m here to say that it’s okay.
Reading is about more than escaping. It is even about more than imagining a different life.
An amazing part about reading is the ability to believe that you can do – and be – anything. Whether you’re a teenager reading YA… or a young professional.
You can take a crazy road-trip with your friends – even though in real life, the fuel and accommodation alone would probably break the bank.
You can battle the forces of evil in ways that even Dumbledore can’t, because your youth and pure heart are the secret ingredients.
You can go on an adventure in a foreign country and expose a drug-ring because you’re a bad-ass like that.
And you can even fall head-over-heels in love on the first date – even if, in real life, you’re painfully careful about the L-word.
Despite the fact that we live in a century of possibility, it is a world where young people are constantly told to be realistic. Make realistic career choices, be stable, don’t rock the boat too much; and for god’s sake don’t go looking for trouble while traveling abroad.
And sometimes living a realistic life is the right thing to do. Sometimes it’s even the safe thing to do. But sometimes we get so caught up in someone else’s idea of a realistic life that we forget to define our own realities.
And that’s what so-called unrealistic fiction reminds me of every day. That I can do so much more than I think I can. Because the characters who go on great adventures are rarely the ones who stay within their comfort zones.
Everything has to be imagined before it can be real; and in that space between imagination and realism lies a world of possibility.
So give me my “unrealistic” young adult fiction. I welcome it.