Questioning Arts and Culture: Teenage Girls Have Good Taste in Books

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Since the dawn of adolescence, the teenage girl has been the punchline of many of a stereotypical joke; they are hormonal, irrational, image-obsessed, boy-crazy fangirls who are a public nuisance with their screaming and crying. Whether it is Beatles-mania, learning k-pop dances, or fantasising about a fictional universe, the teenage girl will forever be viewed as a swooning, oestrogen filled mess. As a newly turned twenty-year-old, I have only just left the teenage girl club, and I take issue with the ways in which anything that possesses a mostly young, female fanbase is presented as unintellectual or sometimes downright silly. As I spent most of my teenage years with my head buried in young adult post-apocalyptic books, this article will explore why books adored by teenage girls ought not to be dismissed as ‘low-brow’ or soppy, but rather embraced as emancipatory for many young women.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room – the Twilight Saga. Now … there is no denying that these books are problematic in many regards; Bella is hardly a strong independent woman and her love interests can be viewed as highly controlling. Though, it can be argued that much of the criticism aimed at the series is somewhat unwarranted. Stripping the series back to the basics, the story is about a teenage girl falling in love with a mysterious handsome vampire and becoming stuck in a supernatural love triangle. It’s fun and provides a fantastical escape from the humdrum of everyday teenage life. Being a teenager is hard and god forbid they enjoy a book series … about vampires … and werewolves. Not everything is written and intended for an adult (male) demographic. If teenage girls want to enjoy an interesting, easy-to-read supernatural romance, why hate on them?

The young-adult genre is more than just Twilight. Anyone belonging to Generation Z will remember the explosion of the dystopian genre in the late 2000s and early 2010s. The Hunger Games series, the Divergent series, and the Maze Runner series dominated the young adult book genre. There were numerous book covers produced as well as excessive merchandising and countless film adaptations (to varying degrees of success). There was so much to enjoy for book fans. Whilst Twilight sometimes walks into a morally grey zone, these dystopian books introduce young people to some rather complex topics, such as authoritarian governance, violence, political empowerment, and freedom. To this day, I have the Hunger Games books to thank for my interest in politics. Although these books are hardly ground-breaking, young people have to begin their philosophical awakenings somewhere – dystopian young adult books are a great place to start.

Yes, all of these books contain romance sub-plots and are often featuring female protagonists, the Maze Runner series being one of a few exceptions. The writing is hardly super intellectual and the narratives themselves are far from entirely original. Even as someone who obsessed about these books when I was younger, I too can read them back and laugh at clunky dialogue and silly plot points. However, I am aware that I am no longer the target demographic. Whilst I struggle to relate to TikTok crazes and the latest popular YouTubers, I would never dismiss the enjoyment that today’s teenagers receive from these new forms of entertainment. Let teenage girls enjoy what they enjoy, especially if what they enjoy is reading. Books can be empowering and impactful and ought to be open to all, no matter what age or gender.

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