Talking YA fiction with a teen librarian (it’s not just for young adults!)
Robin Brenner might have a cooler job than you. She works as the teen librarian at the Public Library of Brookline, meaning she’s paid to read two to three young adult novels a week. She also runs a graphic novel review website called No Flying No Tights (a reference to the efforts of the TV show “Smallville” to differentiate itself from other Superman incarnations). Plus, she gets to organize events like the library’s recent “Welcome to Night Vale” podcast listening night which 50 participants attended, many dressed up in character, to listen to a few episodes of the wildly popular podcast. As she puts it, “I kind of lucked into the right profession, and I have been happy there ever since.”
As evidenced by the number of grown women (and men) spotted with copies of “Twilight,” “The Hunger Games” and the like, YA fiction is not just for young adults anymore. If you’re one of them, there’s no reason to feel self-conscious, or tuck your copy of “Twilight” into a more mature book, Brenner says. At this point, calling books young adult is “more a marketing label than anything else.” The number of books being published with that label has increased hugely in the last couple of years, something Brenner attributes to books that might have been published as adult or children’s books only a few years ago now being categorized as “teen” lit.
Moreover, says Brenner, you have absolutely no reason to be ashamed of your fandom. “I personally think no one should ever feel ashamed of anything they read, but I think it’s become an OK thing to do,” she says. “You’re allowed to read and enjoy teen literature now in a way that you felt more embarrassed about before, especially now that we have a lot more literary teen books as well.”
Of course, as is the case with all literature, some YA novels are better than others. In the best young adult fiction, she says, “you want books to be either mirrors or windows. Mirrors should show you yourself in some way, and windows should show you other people so that you can see what it’s like to not be you, and that’s where the empathy starts to grow in terms of reading fiction.”
Though the breadth of what YA lit covers has certainly expanded and evolved, Brenner would still like to see some changes in young adult literature. “I would like an increase in diversity of the characters — and I mean that in all ways — but specifically racial diversity, diversity in sexuality, diversity in economic class — all the things one would hope to reflect the world.”
That’s where those mirrors and windows factor in. “I think both need to happen, and I think we’re a little behind in showing the mirrors to everybody that’s out there,” says Brenner.