The warming afternoon sun lay across the freckled cheeks of my middle schooler as she squinted against it and pensively asked, “Wouldn’t it be cool to live in a world where dragons are real?”
Hesitation never found me. “I do live in that world, kid.”
A world where I’m the dragon, I’ve slain the dragon, and I’ve rescued the dragon. A world where the skies are purple, where Earth has been a dead planet for centuries, and where I’ve been born in space. And that’s only the beginning.
I have saved the world, over, and over and over again. I’ve crushed a man’s ankles with my bare hands, and then put two bullets in his forehead. I’ve broken the earth with a fist, danced through the stars, and crash-landed on an alien planet outside our solar system wearing only a ballgown. I’ve destroyed demons in 19th-century London armed with only words and blades laced with heavenly runes. I’ve been to hell and back, many times. I can still feel the salt of the ocean on my face as a Viking warrior, the weight of my sword slicing through a foreign war as a princess far from her kingdom, and the stickiness of the blood that pools around a mortal wound.
My hands have wielded wand, bow and arrow, sword, firearm and the power of the gods. I have defended the weak, fought for what is right, been devastatingly wrong and at the end of a proverbial rope. I have gasped for breath, tasted my own coppery blood, died countless times, and conversed in the afterlife with those long passed.
I have fallen in breath-stealing, skin-electrifying love. Again, and again, and again. And every time is an achingly beautiful first time. Every time is a new heart, every time a new pair of eyes desperately searching the cavities of my soul. I have felt butterflies against my rib cage and a heart that has been shattered into more pieces than there are grains of sand on the beaches. I have ridden the stormiest gray clouds and harnessed the meanest blackest sea. I have been consumed by fire raging through my veins and buried beneath the coldest, soundless snow and ice.
I have been a pirate, a thief, a savior. An orphan, a lover, a witch and wizard. I have felt angelic, majestic wings spread across my shoulder blades and have thrown magic from my fingertips. I have been tortured, brutalized, destroyed, worshipped, revered, restored. I have been a storybook character and have also written the story. I have crossed worlds, timelines and centuries in less than one beat of the tiniest heart.
I have made eternal friends. Friends I have given my life for, and friends who have selflessly done the same for me. I have friends who have pulled me back from the brink, friends who have wrapped their arms around me as I wept, friends who silently held my hand while the world crumbled to ruin around us.
And I have done all this from the confines of an alphabet rearranged to form words that are arranged to form sentences, doused in ink, stamped onto parchment colored paper, bound between two sentinels of paperboard and shelved under the words ‘young adult’.
Young adult fiction is where I’ve found that impossible, fictitious, but oft self-narrated-in-the-quiet-spaces-of-my-mind-soundtracked version of me. It is where I go to become someone additionally. Me, but a warrior, me, but inspired. Me, but someone courageous enough for epic adventure, royal admiration, and burn-the-world-to-ashes love. Me, but also invincible.
The genre is fueled by fathomless emotion, which encapsulates the teenage years, but not so very unlike the consciousness of everyday life for all of us, regardless of age. As humans, we are intrinsically emotional and dramatic. YA fiction brilliantly embraces and expands on that in fantastical worlds that adulthood leaves behind. The prose is often wrapped around a coming of age tale — one that we can relate to, and one that we constantly go through as we open each new door along this journey of existence. And it’s cause for pause. Would I have the heart? The brass? The grit? Do I possess even a fraction of what it would take?
YA is full of interminable hope and fervent heart. Full of anticipation, full of the power of determination and the lack of resignation. Characters in these stories are so much more than just adolescents fighting their raging hormones. They possess a depth and magnitude that so many of us are still trying to harness. Page after page, the characters are shouldering the world, responsible for lives they’ve never met, making choices based on brittle knowledge but rich character. And it doesn’t matter if the words are written through the eyes of a teenager. The stories are consuming in a way that bleeds into your every thought and digs its claws on to your heart and doesn’t let go. They are vision-altering, and they are part of the magic that swirls around me creating my world and inspiring me to create for others.
So many of these protagonists are looking for something, and commonly don’t know what. And I wonder if we, as readers, are often a lot like this. We pick up a book, feeling a reason for devouring the words on the pages, but we don’t always know what that reason is. Is it to identify? Escape? Enhance? Empower? Ignite? Perhaps, the answers lie between A-Z in the stacks of YA Fiction.
Young Adult fiction is located in the Youth Services department of the library. We’re a bunch of dreamers; energetic, excited-about-the-magic-of-books vanguards that can’t wait to meet you. Come find us — we’ll take you to our magical, dragon-skied worlds, and help you unearth some of your own.