The three YA novels I reviewed for the Red Adept Publishing Young at Heart book tour — Correlation, Upload, and Canvas Bound — have something in common. They all feature fantasies. Teenagers either travel back in time, save the world from a dangerous conspiracy, or journey inside paintings that have come to life. Fantasy seems to be a common theme in YA fiction. Even a novel about the horrible realities of terminal cancer includes a fantasy where young lovers jet off to Amsterdam for some, as the author would put it, scoodilypooping.
And yeah, including ghosts in a YA novel counts as fantasy too.
So, why all the teenage fantasy? Because teenage reality is harsh.
I’ve experienced that harshness as my brother and I grew up, and I’m experiencing it again as my children are going through their teenage and young adult years. Adolescence is a gap between reaching physical maturity and achieving emotional maturity, and between when a person feels like an adult and when the law says they are an adult. In the United States and most other Western countries, we don’t have a good way to help young people navigate that gap. High school is the closest thing, but it is imperfect. As a result, teenagers could wind up feeling powerless and frustrated.
What can teenagers do when they feel that way? One of the healthiest ways is through fantasy. In fantasy, teens can dwell in a world where they have control, where they feel listened to and valued, and where they can determine their own destiny. Instead of feeling limited and inferior, teens can discover their power.
In all three of the books I reviewed, the teenage protagonists learn that they have power at a time when they feel powerless. They learn that they could use that power to save others as well as themselves. They learn that not only do they have a place in the world, they can define for themselves what that place is. Defining that place doesn’t come easy and often has a steep price. It means losing some things, even some people. Before you can reach for what you need, you have to decide what you’re willing to let go.
Fantasies aren’t meaningless escapism. They can be useful in solving problems. They can help us regain hope when we feel hopeless. They can show us that others suffer from the same pain we do. If they have the ability to rise above their conditions, so can we. YA fantasy can provide solutions, hope, and support for an audience who desperately needs them. It is certainly better than some of the other ways teens deal with powerlessness and frustration.