What is it about YA? Even at our big ages, the genre holds immense appeal, especially as a more diverse pool of writers and stories gain well-earned prominence; a number that includes previous It’s Lit! guests Jason Reynolds, Karyn Parsons, and Maika and Maritza Moulite. Who got next? Ayana Gray, whose debut novel, Beasts of Prey (Penguin Random House), became an instant New York Times bestseller when it debuted on September 28.
Regular followers of The Root Presents: It’s Lit! might already know that of the many genres we’ve covered to date, fantasy isn’t one we’ve explored much on the podcast. (It’s been revealed as a subconscious bias, and we’re working on it). Beasts of Prey proved an ideal entry point; this Pan-African epic—the first of a planned trilogy—is a healthy and deeply satisfying read, rich with adventure, rich visuals and spirituality. As a mid-millennial who grew up in a culture of Harry Potter and Twilight, Gray’s lens on fantasy—and YA—was sharpened, and as she explains in this week’s episode, YA is a genre even us advanced adults can benefit from.
“It took me a while to figure out, OK, why are you still reading YA? Why haven’t you graduated up to adult?” Gray mused during our conversation. “One, is I think the pacing and the speed of YA is quick; it’s quicker than adult usually tends to be, in fantasy specifically. But more more deeply than that, young adult stories are about people trying to find their place in the world and trying to figure out where they fit in in the world. And I think even though I’m 28 now and there are days when I’m like, ‘I’m supposed to have it all figured out,’ I do not have it all figured out, and I’m still trying to find my place in the world. And so reading about somebody who is also trying to find their place in the world is a little bit comforting, and I think that that continues to apply. You know, I’ll still be trying to figure out where I fit when I’m 50, when I’m 60. You know, that never goes away. It speaks to your inner child.”
Hear more from the imaginative Ayana Gray in Episode 51 of The Root Presents: It’s Lit!: Why Fantasy is the Next Frontier, With Ayana Gray, available on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, Google Podcasts, Amazon, NPR One, TuneIn, and Radio Public.