In the 8th grade, I wore my hair in a side braid and fantasized about being the loner who saves the world. The adults around me didn’t quite understand it, but I was a major fan of The Hunger Games. I’m still fascinated by it. The terrifying world Susan Collins presents seems outlandish yet strikingly plausible and the strength of her characters is inspiring. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I participated in a relatively new tradition when I read the books. Young Adult Literature, a genre typically written for 12 to 18-year-old readers, hasn’t actually been around that long. How did side braids found in books for teens become a cultural phenomenon?
Clearly, YA flourished during my formative years. It provided me and my peers with entertainment, education and emotional support. We were concerned with climate disaster, political upheaval and social stressors and YA books were there to legitimize those fears. Teens like me were particularly obsessed with dystopian novels — and then the pandemic happened. Writers preoccupied with the teenage experience seemed to be keenly aware of plausible dystopian scenarios that now define our reality.
Did YA literature predict the pandemic before anyone else saw it coming? Check out my video explainer, “The Rise of Young Adult Literature,” for answers.