Why I Think YA Saves

Hell hath no fury like my Twitter feed right now after a WSJ article about YA. I’ve seen incredibly brave blog posts from authors and bloggers in response and the #YAsaves tweets have made me remember why I love being a part of the bookish community.

I wasn’t initially going to write a post that had anything to do with this subject because after reading some of these amazingly brave and articulate posts…I’m seriously doubting what I really have to contribute. I’ve been through bad times..but nothing like some of the things I’ve read today. I don’t have this huge story to tell about how YA saved my life. But…you know..YA and reading in general has done some incredible things in my life and those around me. I’ve always been a reader. I devoured books even faster when my parents got divorced and during the messy custody battle and then our ultimate move. Books made me forget about what I heard. But at that point..I wasn’t reading books that really delve into Real Life Issues. I was still young..I was reading Little House On The Prairie, Sweet Valley High, etc. etc. I was reading to forget the nasty things that were being said and forgetting the look on my dad’s face when I told him I wanted to move 4 hours away with my mother.

Enter into my high school years. I read..but not as much. I wanted to be popular. I thought popular people didn’t read so I wasn’t going to be a bookworm anymore. I was too busy trying to decipher an AIM conversation with the Boy of the Week, going shopping and having the right stuff to be “cool.” Life was easy peasy. It was light, it was fun and I had hope. I was a good student and I loved my life. All my friends and I had these happy little lives. Then came my senior year and my mom was diagnosed with brain cancer. Inoperable. My teen self did not understand this. Things like this DID NOT HAPPEN. A fucking tumor…and like that my life was beyond different. I couldn’t relate to my friends and they couldn’t relate to me. They didn’t understand where this anger was coming from within me. I DIDN’T understand where this anger was coming from within me. Had this always been inside of me? Was I always this messed up? I ended up moving out for a little while because things became so hostile in my house. I cried myself to sleep, read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath over and over again and tried to be bubbly and happy when I was with people…because I didn’t want to lose my friends and I didn’t want to lose the happiness that I once had.

I didn’t read YA books during this time. But GOD..I wish I had some of these YA books that I’ve read now (as a twenty something) when I was in high school and especially during this time. I was too busy trying to grow up and being TOLD I needed to grow up.  As most of you know me, I read a variety of adult, YA and non-fiction. I read them as the mood strikes. I read adult and YA that is light and fun and I read adult and YA that is dark and depressing. Because…that’s how my life is. As a YA I saw some horrible things with my mom being ill. Horrible horrible things that I can’t ever erase from my head. I said HORRIBLE HORRIBLE things that I can’t ever take back.  But at the same time, there were so many fun and carefree times in my life. That’s just how it goes and I’ve found literature that reflects both of those times in my life.

I WISH I had books that were as real as the YA books I’ve read in these past few years…I wish that I could have had these books to feel not so alone during this time and to understand that the rage I felt within me was ACCEPTABLE and NORMAL…even though my friends made me feel like I was insane and “not handling things well”….considering THEY never dealt with anything like I was dealing with. They didn’t understand grief and pain of this magnitude. And I am SO happy that they didn’t have to experience that during these years of their lives. I read books now that deal with losing a parent and I find myself having a deeply personal reaction to them. Even though it has been years since my mom has passed away, I bawl and really feel something when I read these. And each time I begin to understand more and more of the feelings that I couldn’t explain back then. I realize I wasn’t a lunatic and that I wasn’t alone. Other people have gone through things like this and even worse. It’s therapeutic for me really and I wish I could go back in time and hand my teen self these books and say…”you might not be at risk for suicide or being harming yourself in any way throughout this experience…but these books…they will SAVE you from thinking that you are crazy. They will SAVE you from thinking you are alone. They will SAVE you from being too afraid to have hope ever again. You deserve to have hope.”

Something that isn’t about me:
I hate what this article implies…that YA now is too dark..too raw…too explicit. Like teens can’t handle it. I’m glad it is. I’m GLAD things that didn’t used to be talked about are talked about now. Everyone deserves a voice. My mom lived with an alcoholic father who beat the shit out of her mother. They lived in filth and poverty. And it wasn’t ok to talk about it. My mom dealt with it by moving out and becoming anorexic because she could control that. And I’m sure my mom wasn’t the only one who lived with secrets. Can you imagine living these things and never being able to talk about them or realize that you weren’t the only one?? I love that YA gives some of these tough issues a voice. Somebody has got to speak up for teens and teach them that they are ok, that things will get better and that life is freaking NOT unicorns and rainbows alll the time. It can be…life CAN be that way. But sometimes it gives you tumors or alcoholic parents…and sometimes it gives you summer days in the sun staring at cute boys or feeling like a princess on your way to prom. It’s not ok to ignore both sides of it. It’s just not. 

I used to babysit for a family that had a crisis situation on their hands. The mom was an alcoholic and those kids saw some horrible horrible things….their mom chasing their dad with a knife, their mom passed out on the floor, their mom hitting herself and trying to later tell the cops that the dad did it. The mom has since left but I cannot tell you the stuff that these kids have seen and how all of that effects their life today. I know firsthand because my sister is dating their dad. It breaks my heart to know these things. There is a beautiful and smart 13 year old girl that I have become very close with through this…and you know what…SHE READS YA. She loves YA. We talk about YA and I give her books when I see her. She LOVES Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series and this past year I took her to a signing when Richelle came into town. To see her face light up and to see her acting like a kid again at this event made me SO incredibly happy. She is going into high school and I worry about her. The normal pressures coupled with what she has been through makes me worry that she will get into things that she shouldn’t. But right now I am thankful that she reads to cope with the shitshow she saw in her life…because I can’t tell you how I felt seeing some of the things she went through. She reads, she’s healthy and she’s happy. She loves vampires and cute boys. She isn’t doing drugs or having sex. And I am thankful for that right now. I can’t speak for her and tell you that YA saved her life. But I bet you that she’d tell you that YA makes her life a little bit better, makes her FEEL like a teen again and helps her to escape from some of those things. As she gets older, I plan on handing her some of these books that have been deemed as “inappropriate” or too raw….and I plan on talking to her about the issues that these books raise and I know my sister will as well. She knows some of these issues first hand at a young age…issues that I’ve never experienced and she deserves to be able to read about them to realize that others know and that her feelings….they are justified.
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About Jamie

Jamie is a 32 year old married lady (with a new baby!!) who is in denial that she's actually that old to be a married lady and a mom. When she's not reading you can find her doing Pilates followed by eating ice cream, belting out Hamilton (loud and offkey) and having adventures with her husband, daughter and rescue dog.


  1. Great post about books giving voice to the things that happen to all. Teens need to be given more credit and allowed to choose for themselves. Thank you, thank you for sharing your own experience.

  2. Beautiful and inspiring.

  3. I think this is just the newest media-related issue to put the blame on. Before it was violent movies and video games that were ruining kids, then it was violent music with profanity, and now it's books. Adults seems to forget that THEY are the parents, and how they're kid turns out is mostly up to them, not media.

    It seems like adults have just forgotten that kids aren't as stupid and impressionable as they think. Just cause some 14 year old reads about cutting in a book doesn't mean she's going to go start slicing. And reading only happy things doesn't make a teenager happy.

  4. Thanks Becky and Melina!

    Sarah– I love this and agree times 1000. "and reading only happy things doesn't make a teenager happy" …so true!

  5. We Heart YA says:

    Great post. And hey, there's no reason to say "I didn't have it as hard as these other people" — we each are given our own lots in life, our own problems, and they are ours to bear, without needing to be compared to others. You did go through hard things. We wish you had had the YA books that are available now, and we wish your friends and other loved ones had too, so maybe they could have understood you better.

    Thank you for sharing.

  6. StephTheBookworm says:

    Wow, this is beautiful. I think you are braver than you know, because of your experiences. Thank you for sharing your story with so many of us. In high school, I was pretty much the opposite, not cool or popular at all, and that's why I read. It made me feel less alone.

  7. ivanova says:

    Awesome post. Totally agree.

  8. Callie Kingston says:

    This is such a profound example of why books matter. Story reaches us in a way nothing else can. I think WSJ missed the point — these novels don't glorify all this dark stuff, they shine a light on it and help teens make their way through what they are experiencing, or develop compassion for those that are experiencing such things.

  9. Frankie Diane Mallis says:

    So many hugs for you and this post!!!

  10. Fantastic, fantastic article!

    As a teen myself, I hate it when adults assume that we are impressionable and innocent in our happy little lives– teens go through s*hit, and they go through good times, too, just as adults do. So YA deals with both, just as adults books do, and that's how it should be. I wouldn't want to read books that sugar-coat life for me, and I think it's sad that the Wallstreet Journal is pretty much attacking the heart of YA.

  11. Wonderful post. I completely agree with you! <3 you much Jamie!

  12. lisa [the nerd] says:

    thank you for sharing this. there are soooo many things i wish i could say to my teenage self, and this is certainly one of them.

  13. Chrystal says:

    Wow. Thank you for sharing so much with us. It's so true that YA novels can be anything from princess prom dresses and first kisses to alcoholism and drug abuse. I think teens have the right to know about everything around them and also educate themselves.

    I think knowing others have gone through the same things can bring comfort during difficult times.

  14. April (BooksandWine) says:

    I love this post, Jamie. I think your mom would be proud of the wonderful person you have become.

    Also I think it is so so so cool that you are able to share YA with a younger person, an actual young adult. That is awesome.

  15. Trish (Just a YA Girl) says:


    Thank you for writing this, even when you felt you had nothing to contribute. Of course you have something to contribute. The death of a parent and divorce and popularity and boys all of that is what contemporary YA is about.

    I was shocked when I read the article. I was hurt on a level I can't explain that a parent would feel that censuring what their child reads is going to make the child a better person. You can't ignore life. Any aspect of life. The dark or the light. They go hand in hand. Books save people. Books saved me.

    ~Trish Just a YA Girl

  16. whoRuBlog says:

    Thank you for writing your personal experience and being brave enough to share it with everyone! Well said! Best, Liza

  17. Trish (Just a YA Girl) says:

    I was so miffed about this whole topic I wrote a follow up post. If you want to read it, you can find it here

  18. Patricia's Particularity says:

    Perfectly stated!

  19. Great post. Pretty really sums it up!

  20. ahg. *Pretty much

  21. Jen (Makeshift Bookmark) says:

    love this post, obvs. like you'd expect anything less <3 and i, like you, don't have a story about how YA saved my life… but it makes me smile to know that reading YA helps so many people… as a lifeline, as a companion, as an escape. YA, and books in general, are so much to so many.

  22. Meg @ A Bookish Affair says:

    I so wish that I would have had some of the YA books available now to me. I really could have used some of those books then. I think YA has come really far in the past couple years. I’m only 25 but I know there were not some of the YA books that tackled big subjects around when I was a teen.