Challenging the Literary Canon

After years of being assigned books to read for school, have you ever wondered why the same authors find their way onto every English teacher’s syllabus? I can still remember most of the books I was assigned in high school, throughout my years of Honors and AP English classes. As a freshman, I can recall reading Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. My sophomore English syllabus emphasized Shakespeare, Hemingway, and Victor Hugo. Junior year was my AP Language course, which consisted primarily of analyzing speeches from great men of times past, such as John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln.

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Emerson Alumni: They Went Here?

Anyone who attends Emerson is probably well-accustomed to hearing about the different celebrity alumni that have walked the school’s hallowed halls (although Emerson has changed campus locations numerous times over the years). Yes, Emerson loves to talk about its Emerson Mafia. Of course, an impressive list of alumni is something for the college to be proud of. It’s nice to know, after all, that a good amount of people who have attended and graduated from Emerson have gone on to do incredible things.

Continue reading “Emerson Alumni: They Went Here?”


Let’s Talk About J.K. Rowling’s “Ilvermorny”

A few weeks ago, the story behind Ilvermorny, the North American Wizarding school within the Harry Potter universe, was released on Pottermore. If you can’t recall any mention of Ilvermorny throughout J.K. Rowling’s 7-book series, don’t worry. You didn’t miss anything. The existence of Ilvermorny is only being announced now to coincide with the next “Harry Potter” film being released in November, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”. “Fantastic Beasts” will take place in 1920s New York and center around Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a “Magizoologist”. It stands to reason that if there are wizards in North America, there may need to be a Wizarding school to accommodate them as well. That’s why Ilvermorny has now been introduced. 

If you have read the “Ilvermorny” story on Pottermore, then you should already be familiar with the basics of it: an Irish girl, named Isolt Sayre, escapes her demonic aunt (who also killed Isolt’s parents) and travels to the New World, onboard the Mayflower. Isolt goes off on her own once arriving in Plymouth, makes some new friends/meets some new magical creatures, learns about magic in North America, etc. Eventually, Isolt builds her own Wizarding school on the summit of Mount Greylock in northwestern Massachusetts.

Isolt calls this school “Ilvermorny” and along with her no-Maj/Muggle husband and two adoptive sons, names and creates four Houses for the school. These Houses are Horned Serpent, Wampus, Thunderbird,  and Pukwudgie. The unfortunate thing is that despite the school being founded by white colonists, all four House names are taken from Native American culture.

There is mention of magical Native American people in the story and Isolt and her family associate with them, hence the use of these creatures from Native American lore to represent the school’s Houses. But, they exist as unnamed background characters. Despite being stated to be magical themselves, these Native American characters also have their magic “improved” by Ilvermorny’s teachings.

Now, I realize the Ilvermorny story is simply a quick backstory posted on Pottermore. It’s not part of a published novel. But, the story itself is unimaginative. Of all the ways a Wizarding school could have begun in North America, it had to be founded by European settlers in the 1600s. The story is also appropriative, as previously mentioned. And I have been left stunned at the limited research that seems to have gone into it.

As a whole, the “Ilvermorny” story is a romanticized rewrite of history. It ignores the real tensions between the colonists and Native Americans in North America. On a less-important note, the story also treats Mount Greylock as though it is simply a stone’s throw from Plymouth Rock. As a Massachusetts native, I can assure you the distance between the two places is considerable.

Sure, Ilvermorny is a work of fiction. You can argue that what Rowling writes is only fantasy and that she shouldn’t be expected to give her readers a proper history lesson. But, we also have to question the line being crossed when a writer places real-world history within a fictitious universe. At that point, pure fantasy neglects to be “pure” fantasy any longer. When an author uses the real world’s history to accentuate their work, they must now take on the responsibility that comes with retelling that history, especially when it’s a history that is not theirs to tell in the first place.

Overall, JK Rowling’s “Ilvermorny” tale left much to be desired. Rowling missed many opportunities with this additional school and neglected to make it something unique to American culture, rather than simply a carbon-copy of Hogwarts. Hopefully, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” will be more impressive and pay greater respect to the historical period the filmmakers have chosen as its backdrop.

Art, Opinion

All The World’s A Stage

While sitting in the audience of a production of “Twelfth Night” during a particularly hilarious scene, I saw a hand creep into my field of vision. The hand was inviting me to come with it onto the stage and a jolt of fear ran through my body. Though dubious, I ultimately decided to follow its command and found myself on the stage dancing and singing with two of the main characters in the play. When I didn’t think it could get any more bizarre, the ushers started running through the aisles and onto the stage with boxes of pizza. This, my friends, is the magic of live theater.

As essentially an English major I’ve read a lot of classic plays. Even if you are not cursed with a literature class every semester you’ve probably taken at least one, or remember having to read some plays in your high school English classes. And, as you’ll recall, it’s pretty hard to get into Shakespeare when you’re listening to a teacher you probably don’t like all that much talk about major themes in the least interesting way possible. Unfortunately, that is the way most of us are exposed to great plays rather than seeing them on stage as they were meant to be. And without that opportunity, some never get to experience the way a production can breathe new life into something everyone thought they knew inside and out and make you experience something entirely new, like two plays I have seen recently.

The first was an ArtsEmerson production of “Twelfth Night.” I went into this play not realizing how different it could be from my experience of reading it out loud in my high school Shakespeare class. It was almost as if it was an entirely new play despite them using the same words my classmates and I had stammered out two years before. There was no real set to this production, just a few musical instruments placed in a semi-circle around the stage. These instruments were used throughout the play because there were many random outbreaks of rock music when the characters would suddenly stop and dance for a while in between monologues, giving this production an entirely different atmosphere than that expected of a Shakespeare play.

All the characters except for Sir Toby Belch, the comic relief of the play, were in casual contemporary clothing. This made everything Toby (who was in period garb) did a lot funnier and all of the other characters much more accessible to the audience. The audience participation also added a new dimension to the play. For example, the main character, Viola, decides she must dress up as a man and asks the audience if anyone has a men’s jacket or hat that she could borrow. She was then thrown a men’s hoodie and a beanie that served as her costume for the rest of the show. Another great moment was during one of the play’s opening scenes. The characters threw balls back and forth with the audience and caught them on velcro joker hats. This production made Shakespeare entertaining in a way that some people don’t believe it can be.

Recently, I also saw a one woman production of three short Samuel Beckett plays: “Not I,” “Footfalls,” and “Rockaby.” Though these are not plays that are usually read in English classes, some of his other work is much more popular such as “Waiting for Godot” and “Endgame.” This production in particular disoriented the audience, because the entire 55 minute performance is a blackout. Every light in the theater is off, including the exit signs and the actress is the only thing lit up. 

In the first monologue, “Not I,” all the audience can see is the actress’ mouth floating around while she babbles her speech so fast it’s almost incoherent. This use of blackout added a very intense element to the production. In the words of an audience member, “the words are everything” because in the darkness all you have to focus on is the words. It was an extremely intense experience that I could could never have gotten from just reading these plays.

Plays seem to be in a unique position to be so incredibly enhanced by their productions.  Live theater has the opportunity to bring something new to every performance because it interacts live with the audience. “Twelfth Night” pulled the audience right on stage. The darkness of the Beckett plays allowed the audience to in some ways become alienated and unified in others. No one can see anyone else–so if anyone coughs it’s shocking and disruptive–but on the other hand you feel unified by such an intense experience. As well as many other aspects of performances such as the use of music when you wouldn’t expect it, unusual costumes, or a unique lighting choice can mean a world of difference to how you experience a play. Both of these plays show how small elements of a production can turn words on a page into something entirely new.


In Case You Missed It: The 2015 Boston Book Festival

Most people tend to go through many different choices when they decide what they want to be when they grow up, but I knew I wanted to be a writer from an early age. I’ve always loved interacting with other writers and other people who loved books. Last year, I found a more concrete community of literature lovers when I signed up to volunteer for the Boston Book Festival (BBF). It is a two day festival held annually in October, where those who love literature can attend free events that cover a wide variety of topics, all of which are run by authors and other experts in the field. The BBF is entirely run by volunteers and sponsors who offer their time and money to make this annual festival free to the public.

Since it was my first time volunteering last year, it was a little chaotic, but overall a great experience. I volunteered with my friend at the time as an usher, but for one of the events we were able to sit in an event as microphone runners for a Q & A session. The event was titled “Reading Like a Writer: Historical” and was run by authors, Ursula DeYoung, Susanna Kaysen and E.B. Moore. For the actual panel part, my friend and I were able to listen in and learn a lot from the writers themselves. I’m not particularly interested in historical writing, so if I had attended the festival as a guest, I know I would have glazed over the event. But surprisingly, I ended up really enjoying the event and found it be a unique and refreshing experience.

I’ve decided to volunteer for the second year in a row, and to me, that’s a testament to how successful this festival is. The BBF is run by volunteers who take a day or two out of their year to help make this festival run as smoothly as possible. The fact that volunteers continue to come back year after year is one of the reasons why the festival is constantly growing.

At the training I attended this year for all volunteers, Sarah Howard Parker, “Director of Operations,” mentioned that this year the BBF will be accepting donations. In the past, there have been surveys passed out after events so that attendees of the BBF could offer feedback. This year, those same surveys were passed out along with envelopes so that those able to donate could do so. This makes it so that the BBF can continue to be an event that is free and open to the public. Parker mentioned that it’s important to those at the BBF that everyone is able to attend this event. The organizers know that the only way to continue making this possible is to have it be free for all.

Although I did not get to sit in on any of the events this year, I got to work in a church handing out programs and directing attendees of the festival to various events. I enjoyed interacting with everyone a little more closely and seeing how everyone was enjoying the festival. 

An anecdote I really feel embodies the festival is a story Parker mentioned during the volunteer training. At a past festival, Daniel Handler, more commonly known as Lemony Snicket, was signing books when he caught a glimpse of the bright orange t-shirts the volunteers wear. He immediately took a liking to the shirts, and asked if he could have one. He then proceeded to wear the bright orange shirt for the rest of the festival.

There’s something enjoyable about returning to an event for the second time. Things felt familiar, and though I’ve only volunteered for two years, I almost felt like I was returning to a family reunion. The Boston Book Festival is a great organization that brings people together from all walks of life by uniting them by one common love: literature. Whether you’re volunteering or just attending, and whether it’s your first or fifth festival, the BBF is an experience that I think everyone should have.

Art, Opinion

Dissolving the Friction Around Fan Fiction

I’ve always been inclined to ask people what they’re reading, especially if the book cover looks interesting. So when my friend was reading a book during the summer, I naturally asked her what it was. “It’s called After,” she told me. “It’s One Direction fan fiction that was published.” That was certainly not the answer I was expecting. I had heard about published fan fiction before, but this particular fan fiction I had seen just one year prior, published under the username Anna Todd on Wattpad. Now, I was actually staring at the published book.

I am no stranger to fan fiction. I have a Tumblr, and I have accounts on other websites that are more specific to just writing and even just to fan fiction. I’ve read fan fiction on sites like Wattpad,, or Mibba, and even written my own. I think what surprised me so much was not the fact that she was reading fan fiction, but that it was published. It immediately intrigued me and made me realize how much things on the internet are starting to become a larger part of real life.

I think what added to the shock was this stigma I’ve often heard in reference to fan fiction. I’ve often heard people say that fan fiction is not real writing. I never really understood this argument. I understand that the characters are not original, but the way that the author writes is unique, and a lot of times fan fiction writers will add different elements to their personality that were not present in the original book. This is especially prevalent when fan fiction is about minor characters that aren’t seen as often in the original work. This way the writer has the freedom to expand the character’s world and add their own ideas to it.

Furthermore, there are some fan fictions called alternate universe fan fictions where the writer takes the characters and puts them in a universe different than the one they were originally written in. Katniss from The Hunger Games can end up going to college in the 21st century, and Hiro from Big Hero 6 can end up being a real person (not animated) who becomes a scientist years ago. If it is written the right way, people who read it will never know it’s fan fiction. A writer can change the names of the characters and it seems just like a regular story.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, which is now a huge movie franchise (According to US Weekly, “The film brought in a gross of $90.7 million domestically and $158 million internationally, bringing the grand global total to $248.7 million,”) and was originally a popular book series, was originally fan fiction about Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series. I often wonder why something like Fifty Shades of Grey can be so popular, and then people can go onto say that fan fiction isn’t real writing.

Seeing things like After get published has started to give me hope that maybe the stigma against fan fiction is starting to disappear. Anna Todd’s fan fiction got close to 1 billion views on Wattpad, and now has been published as a three book series. According to Publisher’s Weekly, “Simon & Schusters’s Gallery Books imprint has acquired After, a three volume novel serialized on the site by Anna Todd, in a mid-six figure deal that includes world and audio rights.” Anna Todd changed the names, just like E.L. James did, so a reader would never even know that it was originally fan fiction. The big difference that stood out to me, though, was that on the cover of After it says “Wattpad sensation Imaginator1D” underneath Anna Todd’s name. The book was outright advertising that this story was originally on the internet.

Maybe with the emergence of books like After, the stigma against fan fiction will start to disappear, and more published works will end up being fan fiction originally. Or maybe it can be taken a step further, and fan fiction will be published one day without the names even being changed. Whatever the future is for published fan fiction in the future, I hope that the stigma against fan fiction not being real writing will be completely removed, so that fan fiction writers can express themselves the way they desire.

Sontag: Reborn
Art, Campus, Opinion

Dear Diary

It’s the ultimate cliché for teenage girls everywhere: the diary. According to most movies and cartoons, every girl has one: the private receptacle for their thoughts, hand-written in purple ink and with I’s dotted with hearts, doomed to be stolen and read by annoying younger siblings for blackmail.

In real life, journals aren’t usually this stereotypical–filled with smiley faces and rants about boys–but they are serious business. I should know; I’ve kept a diary for almost as long as I can remember. At this point I don’t remember what first inspired me to start keeping one, but I know that it was just before kindergarten or first grade. My first journal had a blue cover and a painting of two girls on it who, according to my mother, looked like my sister and me. In fact, my mother thought that my very first journal had such a pretty cover that for a while, it was a decoration on top of our TV chest. I, of course, was mortified that my private personal thoughts were accessible to anyone who wanted to look at them. Luckily for my past self, nobody could have read my diary even if they wanted to, because my five-year-old self didn’t actually know how to use a pencil. I tried to go back and read my first diary a few years ago and 90 percent of it was illegible. (The ten-percent I could read was also exactly the kind of deep, personal thoughts you would expect a five-year-old to have: “I am watching Spongebob. I like Spongebob. Now I’m going to go play outside.”)

Over the years I’ve filled up at least a dozen journals, four of them alone from college. As a kid, I mostly considered each journal as a place to put the thoughts that I needed to process but, for whatever reason, didn’t want to share. I’m a private person by nature, so writing out whatever is making me mad or sad usually works better than talking it out at first. Putting my thoughts on paper just helps me organize them better. (This also means that most of my entries from when I’m younger are pretty petty: “I’m mad at my parents!” “I have too much homework!” “My friend and I are in a fight!”)

Going back and reading them, though, I can see that each of my journals is a really fascinating look at how I felt at different periods of my life. They chronicle the high points and the low points of my childhood and adolescence, from getting asked out for the first time and getting into college, to fights with friends and the deaths of relatives. It’s interesting to see how I’ve changed and grown, but it’s more interesting to see all the ways I’ve stayed the same. College is a period all about transition, so in a way, it’s reassuring to feel that who I am at 20 is pretty close to the vision I had for myself when I was ten. And some day when I’m a little older, I’ll look back on my college journals and think about how weird everything was at this point in my life, when I was young and free and simultaneously excited and terrified.

I started thinking more about my diaries a few months ago when ArtsEmerson (where I currently work) brought in a production of Sontag: Reborn. The production is essentially a one-woman show portraying journal entries of critic and writer Susan Sontag from her teenage years until her mid-thirties. The show was fascinating but one quote from Sontag about her journals stuck out to me: “In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.” I had never thought about it until then, but it’s true; my diaries are better tools than mirrors for figuring out who I am and what I want my life to look like.

With that in mind, fellow journal-keepers, here are some of my all-time favorite fictional and nonfictional diaries that might be worth checking out:

Sontag: Reborn
Though Emerson’s run of the show has long since ended, you can still buy the actual book version of Sontag’s journals. They’re an absolutely fascinating look at her development as a person and a writer. (It’s also pretty funny: fifteen-year-old Susan Sontag is exactly as pretentious as you imagine a fifteen-year-old genius would be, and a tirade after she snoops in a girlfriend’s journal when she’s a little older is hilarious.) There’s also another collection called As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh, including Sontag’s journals from later in her career, which I have not checked out but which sounds equally as awesome.

Absolutely Normal Chaos
This is a young adult book , and it’s classic enough that I still go back and read it now that I’m older. It’s a novel by Sharon Creech (and prequel-of-sorts to her Newbery Award-winning novel Walk Two Moons) in the form of the journals of 13-year-old Mary Lou Finney, who has to keep a journal over the summer for a school project and who gets a little too into the assignment. The journals chronicle what is probably the most eventful summer of her young life as she struggles through The Odyssey, deals with her first crush and gets to know her cousin Carl Ray, who is staying with the family over the summer.

I Capture the Castle
Another YA novel , this one from British author Dodie Smith (who wrote The Hundred and One Dalmatians). 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain and her family rent a picturesque, ruined castle in England–which would be much more romantic if they weren’t completely broke. When the landlord’s heirs come to the castle, the family’s life changes and budding author Cassandra captures the whole thing in her journals as a writing exercise.

The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet
Yet another one featuring a young protagonist (are you noticing a pattern?), but it’s more adult-leaning. In this novel by Reif Larsen, 12-year-old T. S. Spivet is a child prodigy who runs away from home in order to accept an award for his research from a committee that does not know his actual age. T. S. himself keeps detailed notebooks of his research, and a huge plot point is that he steals one of his mother’s diaries to read on the trip. It’s one of the most original books I’ve ever read and one of my favorite books of all time.

ItsWayPastMyBedtime and NerdyandQuirky

These are not, strictly speaking, diaries, but I’m okay with that if you are. I spend a pretty decent amount of time on YouTube, and Carrie (ItsWayPastMyBedtime ) and Sabrina (NerdyandQuirky ) are two of my favorite vloggers. Carrie Hope Fletcher is a singer and actress from England, and Sabrina is a high school student from Canada. Both regularly post amazingly funny and relatable videos that I love watching and that are definitely worth checking out.

Those are my thoughts on diaries, and a round-up of some of my favorites! Let me know if you keep a diary and what some of your favorite diaries are in the comments!

Art, Opinion

The Kids Are All Right: TFIOS, YA Fiction and Literary Snobbery

As someone who reads and writes children’s and YA fiction, I’ve learned to have a sense of humor when I tell people about my taste in literature. When academic programs don’t recognize the validity of what you want to write, and when pop culture in general doesn’t take your targeted demographic seriously (because it’s always cool to make fun of what teenage girls like, right?), you don’t have a choice but to grow thick skin about it. For example, sometimes truly abysmal articles such as this Slate article pop up, categorically explaining why you are childish and immature for choosing to read novels with such trifling, “simplistic” themes as struggling to confront your own mortality in the face of a seemingly apathetic universe (The Fault in Our Stars) or how to navigate all-encompassing first love while dealing with societal and family pressures (Eleanor and Park). When these articles and others like it appear, I have to take a deep breath and remind myself that people have different literary tastes. Some people like to read books about young people learning to construct their identities and the way they see the world while battling a range of antagonists, such evil wizards, life-threatening illnesses or oppressive government regimes. On the other hand, some people like to read about Proper Literary Themes like people cheating on their spouses and sexually frustrated writing professors lusting after their graduate students. To each her own.

The conversation about the strengths and weaknesses of young adult fiction is so popular right now because of the insane popularity of The Fault in Our Stars, the movie adaptation of John Green’s novel. In general, people either love The Fault in Our Stars, or they love to hate it. But with the movie’s release on June 6 and its first place debut at the box office during its opening weekend (beating Tom Cruise!), one has to think about not only what’s so appealing about this particular story, but what its meteoric rise to fame might mean for young adult fiction in general.

It’s probably worth stating for the record that as a huge John Green fan, I probably can’t actually give an objective review of the movie or the book. I haven’t read all of John Green’s books yet, but I’ve really enjoyed the ones I have. I’m also a nerdfighter–that is, a member of the community based around Vlogbrothers, the YouTube channel that John co-hosts with his brother Hank. In fact, I actually got into the YouTube videos before I got into John’s books, and it’s been cool to see the TFIOS movie go from a footnote in a YouTube video (“I’m not gonna lie to you, I’ve had my heart broken by Hollywood before, but I’m starting to think that the Fault in Our Stars movie is actually going to be a thing”) to the ridiculous cultural tour-de-force it’s become.

The Fault in Our Stars, for those of you who have somehow managed to avoid the media frenzy, is the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen-year-old girl who is living with thyroid cancer. Hazel’s mother sends her to a support group, where she meets seventeen-year-old Augustus Waters, a fellow cancer survivor. The two soon become friends and fall in love.

It’s hard to describe The Fault in Our Stars without it sounding like a cheesy YA love story or, even worse, a saccharine kids-with-cancer book. But the story goes so much deeper than the little niche boxes that we love to use when talking about young adult literature. It’s not nearly as fluffy and cute as the movie trailer makes it out to be, and John Green really doesn’t pull any punches. This is not the kind of book where the brave, plucky heroine dies of her illness and we all learn lessons about being alive and not taking life for granted while looking at her beautiful corpse. Hazel and Gus are not defined by their diseases. Though they spend a decent amount of time (rightfully) worrying about what their deaths will do to their loved ones and whether or not they will be able to leave a legacy on Earth with the little time they have. They also discuss their favorite books, hide behind big words and elaborate, pretentious metaphors and help their friend Isaac (who has lost his vision due to eye cancer) get over his heartbreak by egging his horrible ex-girlfriend’s car.

The book is sacred territory to its fans, in the same way that Harry Potter is to a lot of people in our generation. I know that I’m really attached to the book, both because of how invested I am in the community surrounding it and because of the timing of my reading it. (I had lost my grandmother to cancer less than a year before reading TFIOS, and I was not coping well.) Coincidentally, the sacredness of books to their readers is a huge theme of The Fault in Our Stars. The main plot of the book is driven by Hazel’s obsession with a book called An Imperial Affliction and her and Augustus’s attempt to find a way to meet the author.

The intense attachment that fans have to this book is why, though there’s been a lot of excitement about the movie, there’s also a lot of skepticism about it. I know that I started getting nervous when I watched the first trailer, because even though I was beyond excited, I couldn’t help but notice that some of the most important lines sounded a little pretentious and stilted in the out-of-context movie clips. The book has a very snarky, tongue-in-cheek tone. What if the movie couldn’t get this to translate, and the story became exactly the kind of sappy sick-lit it is deliberately not intended to be?

Fortunately, I had nothing to worry about, because the movie was essentially a perfect adaptation. The Fault in Our Stars movie is just as funny, delightfully cheesy, heart-wrenching, and most importantly, authentic as the book. I was pleased with all of the decisions the film crew made about what to keep, what to cut, and how to play every scene, as well as with Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort and Nat Wolff for their flawless portrayals of Hazel, Augustus and Isaac. I was impressed by Ansel Elgort in particular; I knew that the other two were going to be good, but Gus is a very hard character to nail down and could have easily come off as an asshole in the movie. But Ansel Elgort, in my opinion, was a perfect Gus, from his moments of triumph (hanging out the sunroof of a limousine with the unlit cigarette dangling out of his mouth) to his moments of weakness (the gas station scene, where, as I did with the book, I became a hysterical, sobbing mess.) I was fully prepared for the movie to suck; I am so, so relieved that it not only didn’t suck, but that it was also, really, honest-to-God a good movie.

Of course, if it did suck, it wouldn’t be the first time that a YA movie adaptation didn’t go well. Since the release of the final Harry Potter book in 2007 (and of the final movie in 2011), the media has been attempting to fill the void it left. After Harry Potter came Twilight, and after Twilight came The Hunger Games. Though both were lucrative franchises–and The Hunger Games, at least, seems to have some positive staying power in pop culture–neither ever quite got to the level of Harry Potter, and people are still trying to find “the next big thing” in young adult fiction. The problem is, however, that in our attempts to discover “the next big thing,” we have a tendency to boil down the popular stories into their lowest common denominators. (“Wizards! Now vampires and werewolves! Now dystopian! Now sick-lit!”) When the deeper complexities of these stories are removed–which occasionally happens with the movies, but also when people talk about young adult fiction in general–the stories are made to seem mediocre and heartless.

People don’t like Twilight for the vampires, or The Hunger Games and Divergent for the battle scenes. They like the actual story. It’s not about whatever gimmick seems to be hot. It’s about the deeper complexities within these worlds–the interpersonal relationships, the applications to real life and the parallels to society today. The sooner all of us (the writers, the marketing teams, the movie studios, but most importantly, the audience as a whole) start treating these stories as the complex pieces of art that they are, rather than as just the next in a line of silly, trifling little stories, the more open everyone will be to the genre, and the higher quality of literature we will all begin to see.

The point is, I love young adult fiction. Yes, it can be cheesy and over-the-top, and yes, it can be unrealistic and even occasionally problematic. But YA fiction is a place for people of all ages to consider themselves and the standards by which they assess the world around them. It can be a safe space for readers to try on different versions for themselves, and it can be pure escapism for people who want to be anywhere except wherever they are.

YA of all genres is no less “serious” than literary fiction for adults just because its protagonists are young. Teenagers do not experience the world any less than adults do, and their fiction, correspondingly, is not somehow less equipped to deal with the triumphs and heartbreaks of the world. You feel the weight of your experiences just as keenly at sixteen as you do at thirty-five and seventy-two, and to imply that the thoughts of people under the age of eighteen–or the thoughts of those who are still in tune to the needs of their past, under-eighteen-year-old selves–are less sophisticated and any less worth exploring in literature is to discount the needs and perspectives of millions of people around the world. Rejecting all of young adult fiction–especially if you have deliberately not read any–is to do a disservice to YA readers and to yourself, because you are missing out on some great stories.

So let’s agree not give up on teenagers or young adult fiction yet.