I Think YA is Great!
Current Mood: accomplished
Current Song: Do You Hear the People Sing? from Les Miserables
There are many great books that some adult readers miss out on because they think those books are for kids or teens and thereby beneath them or poorly written. This includes classics (I want to cry every time a customer tells me that he or she has never read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the sequel Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There) and modern releases.
There are authors such as Elizabeth Berg or Jodi Picoult who, thought they often have teen protagonists, are always shelved in adult fiction/literature and are well-regarded by their peers, their critics, and the industry at large. Yet other authors or books seem to slip through the cracks, never making the bestseller list, being looked down upon because they write for and about teens rather than for and about adults. That hurts me deep down inside, and maybe a little on the outside where that tree branch scraped my head earlier.
Okay, so no branch scraped me today, but one did three months ago, and you can still see the mark on my shoulder.
This is something I talk about all of the time at my bookstore. The pre-judging of books, that is, not the fact that I bruise easily and take forever to heal, and the worthiness of young adult fiction.
Whenever an adult refuses to read a book I recommend because it's labeled as or shelved in teen fiction, that hurts me too. I feel as though there are a great many books which could be shelved in both YA and adult fiction/literature. I could list them for days. Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn and As Simple as Snow by Gregory Galloway were both published for adults but could easily be shelved in YA due to their teen protagonists and the core theme: coming-of-age.
I wish more people would consider the fact that, had today's juvenile fiction and teen fiction shelving breakouts been around fifty, eighty, one hundred years ago, books like To Kill a Mockingbird probably would have been published in the juvenile or teen section due to Scout's age and story arc.
OR, if this is an easier way for you to look at it: There are plenty of well-known high-ranking "adult" novels that, if they had been released today, might be in Teen Fiction instead of (regular) Fiction, including, but is not limited to, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
OR, if you're ready for me to really shake your mind up: We could have the next Mockingbird, Catcher, and Huck Finn on our shelves ALREADY - and those who won't go to the YA department overlook these treasures. It's a crying shame.
Like I said before, this is something I talk about every day. (Can you tell?) I give teen books and juvenile books to kids. I give teen books and juvenile books to adults. I give smart kids contemporary books as well as classics. I encourage readers to read, read, read, to pick up books because they sound interesting to them, not because of the way they look (covers) or where they are shelved (juvenile, teen, or adult fiction) or their popularity or status (bestseller, known author, unknown author, big publisher, small publisher, self-published).
Not all publishers can make like Philip Pullman's reps and print entire series or bodies of work in different formats to be shelved in different sections - but if more did, I think shoppers wouldn't be so fixated on age categories and section labels.
Sure, not all YA books are for adults. I think there's The Polar Express (1) factor at play in the juvenile and teen departments - some adults can still hear the bell, and some cannot. I hear the bell loud and clear. That doesn't make me immature. I am discerning.
Sure, not all YA books are for those who aren't yet teens. There are some novels shelved in YA that are appropriate for 12 year olds. There are some that are not. There are also some novels shelved in adult fiction that 12 year olds could and should read. Look at the required reading lists for most middle schools and high schools and see how many "adult" books are on those lists - and not "just classics" anymore, because modern books are creeping into classrooms too - and some of those modern beauties are shelved in teen fiction.
To those who say books written for teens are never as good as books written for adults, I say, "You're wrong." Harsh generalizations always distress me, no matter what the subject, but truly -
YA books are not lower on the writing-quality totem pole than adult fiction.
YA books have just as much potential as those in any other genre.
YA is not "lesser than." See the math:
When considering a book's worth, think about the quality of the writing and the story that is told, not the section it's shelved in or the label on its side - or the stigma or the hype or the cover, for that matter.
All books are worth something - to the writer and to the reader.
Note: This post started years ago, in bits and pieces, merely in draft form, unpublished. I added to it when Colleen, Kiba and I were discussing Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn months ago. I brought it up again tonight due to Maureen Johnson's recent post.
(1) I played Sister in a stage production of The Polar Express when I was about eight years old. I was not allowed to try out for the leading role because I was a girl and the lead "had to be a boy." The next year, I fought that rule for a different production, and I won - "but that's another story and shall be told another time."
This article was written in December 2007, then published in The Edge of the Forest in February 2008.