Dangerous Reading

Many behavioral norms have become liberal over the years. Nowadays a woman can go to the restaurant without male companion, a teacher is allowed to wear jeans and tennis shoes and seeing a man with a ponytail isn’t shocking.

If one wants to startle, one has to come up with a more powerful way. I myself have chosen literature. It might sound lame but I’ve seen numerous different variations of consternation on people’s faces when I’ve recommended new Finnish – yeah, here come the horrible words – young adult fiction for them to read.

“Why on earth should I read young adult fiction?”, cried out a student in a writing class years ago. I remember my confusion but not my answer anymore. The asker taught Finnish in junior high school which increased my astonishment. But they haven’t been the only one to ask the same question, either out loud or in their minds.

In the background, there might be an idea of youth as its own separate and different group. Matters of the youth don’t concern me, grown-ups think. Yeah, things like love, friendship, sexuality, fear, family relations, searching for oneself, being different, money issues, questions of life philosophy and moral dilemmas aren’t parts of the adult world. Or wait a minute.

The youth’s world is too different, a grown-up states – and grabs a book that depicts a manor romance in the 19th century. Or solving murders in the underworld.

I have a theory. It might be wrong and it’s certainly totally unscientific.

I suspect that some grown-ups are afraid of youth. It is a wild time: big decisions about one’s own future, emotional storms and increasing consciousness of oneself and the world. Youth is a very physical time: fast growth in height, widening hips, voices that become lower, excessively active sets of sebaceous glands, starting periods, sweating, new body hair.

Youth involves a huge amount of things that happen for the first time in one’s life. Many grown-ups wouldn’t dare to be young anymore because it would be uncontrollable and scary. And that’s why also books that depict the life of the young are scary.

A good text makes the reader feel. The reader often identifies with the protagonist and searches for similarities with their own life. The book can awaken memories, also painful ones. The mere subject isn’t enough, of course, good language is also needed. There is a wide spectrum of expression in young adult fiction. It’s sensitive, blatant, vigorous and expressive. There’s no one way to say.

It’s all about so much more than the novel character’s age and life situation. Imaginative literature is literature about us human beings, our humanities and our big questions.

The reader doesn’t have to be in exactly the same situation with the people in the text they read in order to get experience, ideas and sometimes even answers. And the answers usually stem from the reader themselves, not from the book being read. But the book helps to see them.

It does sound scary.

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