Something struck me when I was having a conversation with a friend the other day. We had got to the subject of Twilight, and I found myself saying ‘well I was fourteen when I read the books. You know, the age where everyone gets obsessive’. Even as I said it I was aware that I was guiltily trying to excuse the preferences of the teenage me, as if liking Twilight at one point in my life was something to be ashamed of.
This is hardly something which is exclusive to my experience. Talk to anyone who was a teenage girl in the early 2000’s and it is likely that they will eventually admit to having enjoyed the Twilight saga, maybe even obsessed over the books. And in the same breath these women will probably decry this period as a moment of teenage obsession.
So where exactly does this disdain of teenage fiction in the popular cultural imagination come from?
It is easy to dismiss fiction aimed at teenagers as frivolous, or suggest that these novels have very little literary merit. After all, not all fiction aimed at teenagers is well written fiction. Not all fiction aimed at teenagers contains admirable characters, or a well thought out plot lines. However, in doing so, we not only ignore the fiction that captivated us at the time when our minds are at their most maleable, we also miss out on the scores of fiction aimed at teenagers that resonate with us now. Books by the likes of Antony Horowitz, Garth Nix and Trudi Canavan all reside in the teenage section of bookshops, but the themes they explore are universal. There are of course a few ‘teen books’ that manage to be taken seriously. The Hunger Games manages to do so, but through the story of a distopian future. Hardly what you’d call reflective of the modern experience of a teenager.
Partly, this snobbery is endemic of the wider snobbery in literature, shown in the placing of poetry, and so-called ‘critically acclaimed’ literature above all else. ‘Chick Lit’ is another genre which falls foul of our cultural imagination. Why? Because it demonstrates and reflects the experiences, desires, hope and fears of women.
By dismissing something as just teenage fiction, or even worse, just for teenage girls, all we do is marginalise a group who are just trying to find a way to express their own emotions, are looking for a mirror to try and understand their own experiences. Dislike Twilight because it centres around a female who gives everything up for a man. Dislike The Fault in Our Stars because Augustus is overly hyperbolic. But don’t dismiss a book because it sits in the young adult section of the book shelf. Because when you do you not only block yourself from a potentially gripping read, you contribute to the cultural phenomenon that says that the teenage experience is a to be judged as emotional and over the top and excessive. That to be a teenage girl is to be fatuous, and shallow and obsessive. In dismissing this experience we forget how awful being a teenager can be. We forget our own experiences of the heady rush of hormones, forget the emotional trauma of trying to forge our own identity in an increasingly judgemental world.