The most influential works of literature in my life are not the eloquent writings I’ve stumbled upon in English class, the generous collection of Pinterest poetry saved to my camera roll, or the aggregation of op-eds that molded me into a proud feminist. And, despite my pre-UR origins as a Catholic school student, I wouldn’t ascribe that title to religious texts like the Bible, either.
Rather, the most impactful genre of literature in my life thus far has been the YA novel.
Disclaimer: I don’t say this as a slight against religion. In fact, religion is one of my favorite topics to talk about, and I still believe in God even though I’ve witnessed 90 harrowing minutes of Vanilla Ice’s acting in “Cool as Ice.”
In terms of cultural impact, the Bible is undeniably more significant than YA novels. But, I think there’s an important distinction between the cultural and personal value of something — on a personal level, everyone is affected by things differently. Because of this, YA novels somehow touched my life in a way that more prestigious works of literature couldn’t.
When reading the “Percy Jackson” series, I saw characters that were endearingly imperfect yet able to do good in spite of their flaws because they didn’t give up. Through “The Hunger Games” trilogy, I saw an introverted leader in Katniss Everdeen, who showed me that strength and confidence don’t always come from the loudest person in the room. And in “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” I followed the first story about a biracial Asian American I’d ever encountered, and the elation I felt from reading about a protagonist with the same background as me reminded me why it’s so important for everyone’s stories to be told.
At this point, I’m not entirely sure how to characterize my religious beliefs, but I’ve also decided that I’d still be the same person inside regardless of how I label them. By extension, I don’t feel like religion has a strong bearing on my identity, and the most defining characteristics about me are completely unrelated to religion. And because YA novels connected with parts of me that shaped me more than my spirituality, they spoke to me in a way that the Bible didn’t.
I appreciate the lessons I took away from the Bible, but while reading its parables, I lacked that feeling of enthrallment I found in books that I really connected with. YA novels presented characters I could more readily relate to, and consequently left a more lasting impression on me.
While YA novels may have a reputation for being cliché and formulaic, I never want to discredit the lessons they’ve taught me. I don’t think the source of wisdom should diminish its merit. So even if sources like “Cool as Ice” taught you to be a better person, I say there’s no shame in owning it.
Although it may sound a lot less respectable to call myself a YA fiction reader than a student of the Bible, I will confidently stand by my genuine experiences.