When an author says, “I write children’s books”, the reaction is often one of approval and respect. After all, what more noble pursuit in literature could there be than creating the foundation for future generations of life-long readers?

But when a writer says, “I write young adult books” the reaction can be, sadly, quite different. And the more I talk to other writers of young adult fiction, the more I discover how many of us are still having to defend our choice to write it.

There seem to be two camps when it comes to defining what YA is:

  1. Books written for young adults; OR
  2. Books written about young adults

No one is sure which is true. Sometimes it’s both, but not always. I know plenty of YA authors whose primary audience (i.e. the group that buys the largest proportion of their books) is adults, and I know plenty of others who are rolling in fan-(e)mail from kids with whom their books have struck a chord. In any case, I’m not here to argue for one definition or the other. What I am here to say is that it doesn’t actually matter! When writers of articles like this one make adults feel stupid or low-brow for enjoying YA literature, they’re not only insulting the author’s work, they’re insulting young adults themselves. Dismissing the content of young adult books as trivial and irrelevant dismisses the entire life stage of adolescence as trivial and irrelevant. This is because one thing we can all agree on when defining young adult literature is that it explores the journey we take during that time of life. And why should that time be worthy of disdain any more or less than childhood, adulthood, or old age?

Recently, I read this article in the Paris Review, in which the writer talks about how reading YA allows her to visit her younger self, a self that still forms part of who she is today. I agree with her very strongly, and there are times when I’m writing YA that I, too, revisit my younger self, but with the same broader adult perspective that the writer of this piece employs when she reads. This dual perspective allows me to understand the motivations behind my characters, as well as what’s going on around them, when the characters themselves might not; this kind of self-knowledge comes only with age and experience, and when it is applied to who we become, it is anything but trivial, anything but irrelevant.

Arguably, there may be no other time in our lives when we feel as much passion and turmoil as we do when we are teenagers, and also no other time when we go to such extreme measures to hide it. We need to be cool, we need to show others we can handle life, that we’re growing up, thinking for ourselves, and we want everyone to know we don’t need as much support as we once did. But the metamorphosis from child to adolescent to adult is scary, even if we don’t recognise it as such while we’re in the midst of it. This combination of extreme emotion and the need to repress it makes for fascinating and complex characters, who are constantly interacting with other fascinating and complex people experiencing turmoil of their own, also hiding, also needing without wanting to need. What writer could ask for more challenging subjects? And not only that, we, as writers, have the chance to connect with these kinds of people as readers at a time when one real connection can be a lifeline.

A friend recently linked to this post on Facebook, a “witty” listicle titled How to Write a Shitty Young Adult Novel. The author is 100% correct: this is how you write a shitty YA novel. What the writer of this article fails to acknowledge is that it’s a damn good thing there are so many brilliant and talented YA authors out there writing books that meet precisely none of the points on his snarky list—a list that dismisses both young adults and readers of young adult fiction as essentially brain-dead philistines. But, like any genre of fiction, there exist books that are, to read, like a bag of potato chips is to eat: quick, tasty, and with little to no nutritional value. Then there is YA literature that is as varied, sophisticated, and nourishing as any other genre. It’s time to stop shaming young adult literature and the people who read it, regardless of their age. Every time you dismiss or deride it, you dismiss and deride an entire life stage that is as valuable and intrinsic a part of who you are today as any other time in your life.