You know what I did last summer. Well, you don’t, but I’m going to tell you. This is kind of embarrassing, or possibly not at all embarrassing, which is something we can decide together at the end of this article. What exactly did I do this summer? Apply concealer as lipstick? Eat a soap I thought was a macaroon? Accidentally lock myself inside my apartment? No, those were all in September. What I did last summer was watch all the available episodes of Pretty Little Liars—the popular ABC Family series based on the novels by Sara Shepard that returns from mid-season hiatus tonight—in a matter of two weeks.
I would like to be less cliché and say that there wasn’t a gateway moment. I wish I didn’t go into this thinking “let’s just see what this is like” and quickly become addicted, or that somehow I knew before I started that this would be a cannonball situation. However—despite some inklings based on certain plot points divulged in my Twitter feed—my love for this show took me completely by surprise.
I haven’t read or seen Twilight, Harry Potter or The Hunger Games. It’s not a spiteful thing; I just haven’t. Maybe I’m waiting for them to morph into one giant book or movie about a group of vampires at a prep school who have to murder each other for ratings? (But if I found that entertaining then I could just watch Gossip Girl.) So why would Pretty Little Liars, a relatively much less popular adaptation, grab me when none of the big three Young Adult Crossovers did? (Yet.)
This question is especially pertinent, considering the fact that labeling something “young adult” lassos it to an implication that if someone like me—who is not a young adult (nor an old adult, thank you)—likes a certain work they are not a fully-formed adult, or are somehow regressing into some kind of frivolous or angst-ridden teenager. It is an implication that is pretty offensive to me, everyone who enjoys the YA genre, and I’m just going to assume here, teenagers. Those aforementioned big three book and movie franchises have managed to topple the YA stigma due to their sheer popularity—go ahead and read Twilight: Breaking Moons on the subway it’s part of the zeitgeist so you have permission. However, there are few other examples of YA fiction of that are as free of judgment.
“Young adult” is such a bothersome term because it decides that certain emotional, faster-paced, first person, coming-of-age stories are for teenagers (or preteens) only. It’s like when 1950’s melodramas were labeled “women’s pictures” because they appealed to, and heightened, the emotions of the audience (which was obviously full of soft-minded, hysterical women bawling over Douglas Sirk characters and their downfall via social problems). Some people, regardless of age, like serious-minded, slow-moving narratives. Some people like stories that are quicker, and more operatic. Some people like both, and they don’t even feel the need to hide behind the phrase “guilty pleasure”. I like what I like and I attended Catholic school, don’t I feel guilty enough?
For the record, I’m not defending all YA books or television; most of it is terrible. You know why? Most television is terrible, period, and I love television so much I went to graduate school just to get a masters in watching it. There are enough hackneyed, watered-down, also-ran shows full of fresh-faced tormented high schoolers to fill a bildungsroman of DVRs (were “bildungsroman” to mean an extremely high number and not the German term for coming-of-age story).