No matter what your age, young adult literature is unique in its power to fire up your emotions. While I’ve enjoyed my fair share of adult fantasy, what I notice about YA fantasy that sets it apart are its pure feelings — because let’s face it, your emotions (and hormones) as a teenager are some of the strongest you’ll ever experience!
YA fantasy is especially unique for sweeping us away to magical worlds where our current rules may not apply. And what better host to our adventure than a teenage hero? Teen troubles — often self-centered in the most endearing ways, such as worry about school or crushes or curfews — are instantly relatable, because we’ve all been through them! This makes teens truly fun guides to other realms. Just be prepared to re-experience the intensity of those youthful concerns and heartbreaks.
My current example is The Near Witch by V.E. Schwab, a YA fantasy novel set in a quaint little village on moors that seem to be haunted. Our hero, a teenage girl named Lexi, steps into her late father’s oversized boots (quite literally) to traipse through the forest, hanging with a pair of ancient witches and hunting for clues about a missing boy. Besides the breathtaking prose and breakneck pace of the novel, the story is beautiful for capturing what it feels like to be a teen. It’s easy to get caught up in Lexi’s desire to disobey her overbearing uncle and venture out to uncover the mysteries that surround her village.
That sense of discovery, paired with the thrill of breaking rules that only a kid or teen can really experience, makes adventures so much more enticing. Sure, adult YA fantasy has an exciting showcase of anti-heroes and kickass action stars. But who can resist a teen girl who in one moment tucks her little sister into bed with a protection charm, and in the next breath sneaks out the window to the moonlit moors to investigate a magical mystery?
Some stories include kids or teens at school, which only adds to how relatable they are. The perfect example here is the famous Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, which follows its hero as he discovers he’s a wizard and takes a train to Hogwarts, a school where he will study magic. Many other YA fantasy books also feature magical schools, pairing the mundane with the mystical in a winning combination.
I’ll admit it’s not every YA fantasy book that works its magic on me; sometimes a story is just a story, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I live for those moments when, in the midst of reading about even the simplest moments, I feel the rush of being a teenager again.
In The Near Witch, I can feel the hairs standing up on my arms when Lexi encounters the strange boy who appeared on the moors. I relate to her mourning the loss of her father, her need to keep her little sister safe, her desire to remain just friends with her lifelong boy pal despite all those pesky romantic notions he gets. In the midst of the gripping story, what you have is just a beautiful portrayal of what it’s like to be a teenager.
As I wrote about in my very first Reading is Magic post, the first YA fantasy novel that lit up my imagination was The Hobbit. My 4th grade teacher read it to my class while we doodled or laid our heads on our desks. It was probably partly a ploy to get us to calm down after lunch or recess, now that I think back on it — but it was a gift to us, too. For me, it opened my eyes and heart to a whole new genre of fiction. I went on to read The Lord of the Rings series in middle school, and my passion for fantasy literature was sealed.
But although The Hobbit is a great YA fantasy read centered on an adult, I find teen heroes can be even more fun to read about. If you haven’t read The Near Witch yet, I highly recommend it for its relatable protagonist and beautiful prose.
Whatever story you dive into next, if there’s a teen at the helm, embrace the journey into those strong emotions — it’s what makes YA fantasy literature so powerful!