There’s an article that’s making its way around twitter and the blogosphere. If you’re a fan of YA, or literature in general, I’m sure you’ve at least heard of it. I won’t link to it*, because the author of the article clearly wrote it with a shock value in mind. She wants your clicks and I won’t be a part of sending you to her. A generalization of her article (because she is very fond of those) boils down to the fact that adults should be ashamed to read YA because it’s meant for children. In her opinion adults should give it up the moment they hit that tender age of (insert when adulthood begins), and leave those books for the teens they were “meant for”.
To that I kindly say, go frack yourself. If anyone wants a sure fire way to piss me off, it’s disparaging an entire genre and its readers just because you have some inane idea of what makes “good literature”. It might be because I am a librarian, and I am all for that freedom of information and the right to read whatever the heck strikes your fancy. It might be because I am a decent human and don’t want to impose my ideas on other people. Take your pick. Both apply here.
I’ve read my fair share of “adult” books. I put the quotation marks in there because some books labeled as adult could very easily move their way over into the YA section of the library. I went through my Jane Austen phase, grabbed a little Hemingway on the go, and have a love/hate relationship with Miss Jane Eyre. When new adult books come out, I will always browse them and see if any strike my fancy. I don’t avoid anything labeled “adult” like it’s the plague, but I am drawn more to the YA section. Guess What? Not embarrassed at all.
In fact, I would go as far to say that some of the YA being written right now would rival any of those books making their way up the New York Times Bestseller list. The prose of Laini Taylor is so heartbreakingly beautiful, that I would rival her with the greatest authors who’ve ever put pen to paper. Actually, let me go ahead and leave this here to simmer for a second. Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait.
“It is a condition of monsters that they do not perceive themselves as such. The dragon, you know, hunkered in the village devouring maidens, heard the townsfolk cry ‘Monster!’ and looked behind him.” _ Laini Taylor; Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Jesus that was a great set of lines. When I got to that part in the book I had to put it down and give her a slow clap that I knew she couldn’t hear, but hoped she felt. Laini Taylor is a master, and she writes YA. Now I can’t talk about YA and awesome lines of literature without adding in my absolute favorite author Libba Bray. Let’s take a look at one of her many suburb lines:
“Some mornings, she’d wake and vow, Today, I will get it right. I won’t be such an awful mess of a girl. I won’t lose my temper or make unkind remarks. I won’t go too far with a joke and feel the room go quiet with disapproval. I’ll be good and kind and sensible and patient. The sort everyone loves. But by evening, her good intentions would have unraveled. She’d say the wrong thing or talk a little too loudly. She’d take a dare she shouldn’t, just to be noticed. Perhaps Mabel was right, and she was selfish. But what was the point of living so quietly you made no noise at all? “Oh, Evie, you’re too much,” people said, and it wasn’t complimentary. Yes, she was too much. She felt like too much inside all the time. So why wasn’t she ever enough?”
― Libba Bray, The Diviners.
I can go on and on. Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone series, which takes a bit of inspiration from George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series (more on him in a second), is a complex novel set in an otherworld, that grossly boiled down, centers on a girl finding the strength within to trust herself and kick some major patriarchy ass. Is she a teenager? Yes. Does that make the story any “less” than a novel placed in the adult section? Nope.
In fact, there are plenty of novels that are structured around teens and children that are actually adult novels. George R.R. Martin’s series comes to mind. See I told you I’d come back to him. Let’s get the real ages of those awesome Stark kids we love to watch fail. Robb and Jon began the book as 15 year olds. Sansa was only 12. Ayra was 9, Bran was 8, and poor little forgotten Rickon Stark began the book as a 3 year old. Every other major player in the series is of comparable age. I believe Dany was 14 years old at the beginning of her reign, and Joffrey was only 14 as well.
I use this series as an example because of its immense popularity. The television show aged them up only because it would be deemed inappropriate (and illegal) to have children getting naked with each other and killing (or being killed) in really horrific fashions. HBO was not ready for that kind of drama.
Back to my point though, this is a series set around teenagers and their reactions to the many changes in their lives. They act like stupid spoiled teenagers and have hilariously unrealistic interactions/experiences. If George RR Martin took out all the sex and toned down the violence, I could realistically expect to see this book in our Fantasy YA section. Don’t tell me it’s too complex and the reading level too high to get thrown in there with YA.
Like I said, Leigh Bardugo’s series is right up there with A Song of Ice and Fire, it just doesn’t have Alina taking her clothes off whenever the Darkling comes around, or savagely killing him whenever she finally gets the chance.
I love both of those series of books, and I don’t see in anyway how one is more qualified for adult readership than the other. I seriously doubt that when these authors, of the fabulous YA genre, are sitting at their keyboards, downing their fifth coffee that morning, they are thinking “wow this book is so amazing for teens. I hope no adults try and read it!”
I can’t help but wonder, if YA is so demonized because it is a predominantly female written genre. There are a lot of great books in YA written by men, but my absolute favorites all have female writers. I didn’t intend for that to happen, it just did. The author never makes the point that it is a female driven genre, but that thought still lingers in my head. Would it have more value if more men wrote YA? That whole John Green is saving YA crap is another topic I could write pages about, but I’ll save you the rant. YA isn’t a genre that needs saving, and that’s all I’ll say about that subject.
Going back to the article that shall not be named, the author points out that YA Fiction focuses on unrealistic teenage experiences that are uncritical and have uniformly satisfying endings. I’m paraphrasing a bit here, but holy hell has this person even read any recent YA? I mean sure, there are some unrealistic teenage experiences in some YA books. Just like there is no way in hell the events that transpire in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (adult book) would have ever happened in real life. This is a criticism that can honestly be applied to any book in any genre, regardless of the intended audience.
As for those satisfying endings? Has this person ever read a Maggie Stiefvater book? Let me tell you right now, she is an amazing author, but I would never call an ending to her book satisfying with all loose ends tied up. She ends her books at the end of her character’s arc, even if that means some questions go unanswered, and the reader doesn’t have a smile plastered on their face when it closes.
I went to an author talk with awesome YA author Tessa Gratton recently and she said something that has really stuck with me. She said, “I don’t write for teens. I write about them.” Obviously in YA, teens can be pulled more to some of the stories and experiences than adults. However, that doesn’t mean that adults can’t enjoy the story just as much as a teen.
When I’m not working, I’m writing. I’ll give you three guesses what genre I write. Ok fine I’ll just tell you. It’s YA. I love reading YA and I love writing YA. When I sit down and get over my anxieties about writing, I let that story flow through me and don’t look back. Are my characters teenagers? Yes. Do I think teens will like my book? I sure hope so. Do I want adults to like my book? Hells to the yes.
Honestly, I could go on all day on this topic. I find it so discouraging that people who have a platform use their voice to try and make people feel bad about what they like. Adults that read YA aren’t hurting anyone. They are enriching their minds and losing themselves in a story. I am all for reading what you want. If you want to read one of those .99 Kindle Erotica novels, go on with your bad self. I applaud you and your love of any kind of literature. If you don’t like YA, don’t read it! I don’t read certain genres because they don’t appeal to me. That doesn’t mean I’m going to scream at you and tell you that what you read is worthless. I’ll just nod my head and smile while you describe your favorite book, and hey, maybe even pick it up because you are so enthusiastic and love it.
Let’s just stop trying to make people feel bad about what they’re reading ok? Now I’m going to pop an aspirin and read some nice YA to calm down. Maybe even learn a new thing or two in the process.
Are you interested in YA? Here are some of my favorite authors (that I haven’t already mentioned) and books you should check out!
Authors You Should Check Out:
Books You Should Check Out:
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Landry Park by Bethany Hagen
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Legend by Marie Lu
Angelfall by Susan Ee
Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker (October 2014)
*This article is in response to “Against YA” by Ruth Graham, which appears in Slate’s Book Review.