There’s been a bit of a social media uproar recently regarding the young adult genre. Since I’m such a huge advocate for YA (and indeed, that’s the genre in which I predominantly write!), I thought it would be prudent to add my opinion, just for kicks.
As far as I’m aware, the recent arguments have originated after an article was published in The Slate Book Review, titled, ‘Against YA‘. The lead line goes on to summarise: “Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.”
The article is an interesting—if eyebrow-raising—read. But I certainly don’t agree with it. A few things in particular stood out to me, and I’ve addressed them below:
“Adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children.”
Umm… Why, exactly? The article itself states that the largest demographic to purchase and read ‘young adult’ books is in the 30-44 years age bracket. There must be a reason for this!
“Let’s set aside the transparently trashy stuff like Divergent and Twilight, which no one defends as serious literature…”
Ouch, again. ‘Serious literature’ or not, there’s no denying that they’ve had phenomenal worldwide ‘success’ and—more importantly—they’ve brought a whole heap of non-readers back into the reading fold. As a writer, I’m extremely thankful that they’ve paved the way for others such as myself. Without their success, future YA authors would have a much smaller audience ready and raring to be captivated!
And on another note, I have friends who, before Twilight, hadn’t read an entire book from cover-to-cover in their life. But, regardless of it’s lacking ‘serious literature’ description, they devoured the simplistic nature of the writing, characters and storyline. How is that result a negative in any possible way? Most of them now love reading again! That’s a total win, in my opinion!
“But even the myriad defenders of YA fiction admit that the enjoyment of reading this stuff has to do with escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia.”
What’s so wrong about that? Isn’t all fiction enjoyed for these purposes? By definition, fiction is: ‘…imaginary events or people; something that is invented or untrue.’ So, escapism? Check. Instant gratification? Check – after a few pages, at least. Nostalgia? Well, maybe, depending on the story specifics. I doubt one can find nostalgia in The Hunger Games, for example. (Or, I hope not, at least!). We read fiction because we want to jump into another world, another time, another place, sometimes even another personality. We want to tune out of our own lives and enjoy the time away from the pressures of real life. Escapism, gratification, nostalgia – of course these are elements that contribute to why we enjoy reading! But, again, what’s so wrong with that?
“…these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction. These endings are for readers who prefer things to be wrapped up neatly, our heroes married or dead or happily grasping hands, looking to the future. But wanting endings like this is no more ambitious than only wanting to read books with “likable” protagonists.”
Firstly, I’m a Disney fan, so I love the happily-ever-after endings. If I’m reading for pleasure, why-oh-why would I want to read a good three-hundred-plus pages of a book only to come out of it completely miserable at the end? Yes, I definitely want the ‘satisfying’ ending. That’s why I love YA – because generally speaking, I know I can look forward to how it will end, despite whatever challenges may be faced along the way. Admittedly, it can be annoying if the ending is too simplistic—like when everything is wrapped together in a neat, pretty, unrealistic bow—but I’m not advocating all YA books here, since there are definitely some less-than-well-executed ones out there. But I’m talking about the vast majority of YA books I’ve enjoyed – and I’m arguing on their behalf with my opinions here.
Secondly, umm, am I the only one who finds the last sentence in the above quote eyebrow-raising? Why would I read an entire book if I didn’t like the protagonist? Sure, I’ve done it before (hey, we’ve all had compulsory reading lists for school and stuff, the one’s we had little choice in reading), but it’s never enjoyable – the whole time I found myself shaking my head mentally and wishing for the end. These days I read because I want to read, and that therefore means I’d much prefer to read about characters I actually like – especially the protagonist!
“I know, I know: Live and let read. Far be it from me to disrupt the “everyone should just read/watch/listen to whatever they like” ethos of our era. There’s room for pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader.”
This is an interesting line. ‘The serious reader,’ huh? *Wrinkles nose*. That even sounds stuffy and boring. I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ll mention it again: I read because I want to read. There’s nothing serious about it, not for me, at least. It’s simply fun. I read for pleasure – and to (hopefully) enhance my writing skills. And I read a lot – but rarely is anything I read what I would classify as ‘serious’. Don’t get me wrong – I completely respect those who do read literature that expands one’s mind… But I’m the first to admit YA books are not categorised as such because they’re a genre focused on the flippant things in life – and that’s why they have their own genre. *Rolls eyes*…
“… if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something.”
This is a remarkably short-sighted opinion. We could justifiably argue that those who don’t read YA are missing out on learning the value of the simple pleasures in life, those addressed in most coming-of-age stories. Common themes include dreams coming true (regardless of how realistic), adventure, magic and mayhem, love, and life in its most purest, innocent (or not!) forms. These are integral—and beautiful—elements that we can discover just by opening the pages of a young adult novel. And those who turn their noses up at YA books are denied the wonder of such discoveries.
That’s pretty much an overview of my opinion on the article. The author makes some valid points at times, but I don’t agree with her on the whole. And that’s okay, because we’re all entitled to our own opinions – just as we’re all entitled to read what we want, when we want, and for whatever reasons we want! I for one will always be a staunch advocate for the YA genre, and will likely still be reading it when I’m 102 years old and eating all my meals from a straw. (It will definitely be for escapism purposes then! And probably nostalgia as well!)
So, tell me: what’s your opinion? Do you think adults who read YA fiction should be embarrassed?