The Fault in Our Genre: Do YA Books Belong In Grown-Ups' Hands?
Last week Slate put out a story letting adults know they should be embarrassed to read Young Adults titles. The crux of the argument was that YA books are written for "children" and their preferences for tidy endings and universally likable characters. Examples included The Fault In Our Stars, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Eleanor & Park, and others. In addition, the writer explained why these books should not be pleasurable for adult readers:
..the very ways that YA is pleasurable are at odds with the way that adult fiction is pleasurable. There’s of course no shame in writing about teenagers; think Shakespeare or the Brontë sisters or Megan Abbott. But crucially, YA books present the teenage perspective in a fundamentally uncritical way. It’s not simply that YA readers are asked to immerse themselves in a character’s emotional life—that’s the trick of so much great fiction—but that they are asked to abandon the mature insights into that perspective that they (supposedly) have acquired as adults.
Of course, this perspective just about broke the internet, or at least the bookish parts.
The reactions were all over the map. Here are a few selections.
CNN's Kat Kisman on the results of reading "important" books as opposed to what she really found pleasurable:
Was I suddenly a more worthy, worldly person, with bigger, better thoughts? Not that I could tell, but I did get an awful lot quieter about admitting to people what made me happy — and maybe a little bit judgmental about other people's tastes, too. And that makes the world (at least my world) a little smaller.
Look, I'm not going to tell you what not to read (because if you like Gossip Girl that is your business), but no one should be telling anyone (especially grown adults) what to read either. You're a grown-up. Sometimes you want to read David Sedaris with a glass of Ramona Pinot and laugh about human folly and sometimes you want to eat peanut butter cups for breakfast and not take a shower for three days.
Seriously: some of my best friends write YA and people (mostly men) have straight-up asked them, 'When are they going to write a real book?' I have gotten the chance to cover YA in a variety of locations because I read it and I know about it, but also because there’s a general air of disinterest around it from other writers and editors (again, frequently men) who fail to realize that there is something to be said for stories that encourage ardent love.
Reading through the comments, we can easily tell a few things about some of the adults who love to read YA novels: they’re very defensive. Also, a lot of them are really bad at defending their reading habits and yet feel compelled to.
For us, the bottom line is simple. YA lit isn’t the blight Slate’s Graham makes it out to be, nor is it the shining light others proclaim it as. Books aren’t single-trick ponies, reduced to serving just one purpose. They fill our lives with meaning on many levels, no one greater than the other. They inform, entertain, challenge, move, provoke, please, discomfit, and force us to see the world in different ways. No one book can provide that breadth of experience, just as no one genre can, or should.
...I write YA because it’s a genre that is constantly evolving, is rich with ideas and distinctive characters, and offers limitless possibility. While adult fiction has been sectioned off into rigid genres, YA is an umbrella term that encompasses subjects as varied as dystopian wastelands, changeling children falling in love, and, yes, teenage cancer. It’s a genre where you can still write a lyrical, literary novel that is also sci-fi or apocalyptic. There are stories with happy endings, and stories that leave you gutted. There are novels set in high school cafeterias or in 1920s New York. YA is not a monolith, not just love stories or epic dystopian novels.
Maybe the most important part of the Slate article, or the most interesting, was mostly overlooked:
Far be it from me to disrupt the “everyone should just read/watch/listen to whatever they like” ethos of our era.
Is there room to criticize genre? Or the ways books are marketed? Do you think it's wrong to criticize what gives another person joy, or maybe a better way to ask that question, can this kind of criticism be purposeful?
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