That is the question pondered over at Galleysmith. And since I am a grown man who reads YA and Children’s literature for entertainment (sure, some of it is for my kids but most is not) I figured I would address the question.
Short answer: yes and no. Not surprisingly, this particular genre is just as hard to generalize about as any other. In fact, YA includes just about every other genre. It is a rather wide and open space. And this is why many authors and readers are drawn to it; there seems to be fewer boundaries.
Now obviously there is plenty of fluff in YA just as there is plenty of fluff in any section of the bookstore. Serious and/or primarily artistic/atheistic works are never going to be the majority. People read for a wide variety of reasons: education, engagement, scholarship, work, entertainment, escape, etc. Young adult fiction can be found for any taste or outlook.
Let me give a couple of examples.
I absolutely adore the Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley. These short books are clever, witty and just plain fun; not to mention suspenseful and often action packed. But you could argue that they are fluff. They are just silly – albeit very well done – stories that make you laugh. Oh sure, you could argue that the relationships involved touch on more serious issues (family, friendship, loyalty, courage, etc.) but I don’t see that aspect as dominant.
But so what? They are fun and engaging entertainment. What is wrong with that exactly? So if you want to call it fluff, fine. But I think a certain amount of fluff is worth reading.
On the other side could be a book like the The Flame Tree by Richard Lewis. This was a book that was not originally written for YA but ended up there because of the publisher. It is a “serious” book that deals with serious issues like faith, violence, and cultural understanding.
But to me this is simply a great book no matter what the category. It is literature and just because it has a 12 year old protagonist, or is published by the YA division, doesn’t change anything. And there are plenty more examples of this type of YA fiction.
These two examples are illustrative of why I read the genre or age group. Sometimes it is for the imagination and fun (kids are often allowed to have more fun than adults) sometimes it is simply for the great story that happens to be in the YA section. And once I started checking out this section of the book store and library I found myself returning regularly to find new gems.
I am sure there are plenty of fluff and only fluff books in YA that I would find thin and not worth reading but, as noted, I know there are lots of those type of books in the “adult” section too. So I guess I just judge the books as I come to them.
I don’t begrudge adults who don’t read YA. The taste isn’t for everyone and there are more books than one could possibly read. But to say that this area can safely be skipped because it is all fluff is inaccurate and unhelpful to my mind. You might as well give up reading all together given the noise to signal ratio of most human activities.
The key, IMHO, is to find what you like no matter what the label or shelf.