A Conversation on YA (Part III)
As has been widely reported, young adult literature is enjoying huge popularity at the moment with adults and teens alike reading YA books in droves. Consequently, the genre has become the target of some spirited debate (most famously from Slate’s Ruth Graham in her piece “Against YA”).
In Part One of this conversation, we discussed the differences between “adult” and “young adult” novels while in Part Two, we talked about how schools are using YA and if a YA-based curriculum is really a good thing—should books being accessible matter? And does the “at least they’re reading” argument really hold water?
Corey: So where does an education system that teaches YA leave us? In our last part, Kate asked about why adults might be fleeing to the children’s section and reading YA. Are they doing it because they no longer wish to be challenged?
Personally, I don’t think it’s that adults don’t want to be challenged. I think it’s more a problem of adults never being challenged as young adults and children, so they just continue reading in the similar vein as they grow up. I’m not sure the choice by adults to read “Young Adult Literature” is really as much of a statement or intentional choice as we (and the media) make it out to be.
Kate: I think it’s just a marketing distinction. People are reading books now that they would have read before, they’re just marketed differently. The difference is, people take this pride in it, and I think it’s because of the marketing furor over YA books — the idea being that the books are so talked about that everyone must be reading them, so we talk openly about them rather than sort of hiding them.
Many times I think YA is missing any kind of moral or ethical complexity. There are good guys and there are bad guys and there is never any confusion. Bella would feel much differently about Edward if, in fact, he did kill humans — all kinds of humans, as do the werewolves in The Last Werewolf and Talulah Rising. Sookie Stackhouse struggles a lot with the question of good and evil when it comes to the supernatural. You don’t really find that in YA, at least, as far as I’ve seen.
Corey: That is really the bottom line for me, too. I got really puzzled at that lack of complexity and then eventually troubled. In execution, I found my forays into YA imaginative fiction to be well short of intellectually stimulating. They were entertaining, sure, and I marvelled at the creativity of the authors. And yet…
In the end I found myself rather agreeing with Ruth Graham (and you, Kate!)—young adult books tell simple, clear-cut stories with neat endings and easily-followed plotlines. And adult readers, while they may well enjoy these fables (essentially), should really aspire to something more.
Kate: Of course we should aspire to something more! I recognize that reading isn’t important to some people, and the same holds for complex literary analysis. We all have the right to read and enjoy YA books of any ilk.
But I agree with Ruth Graham that the pride people take in reading YA fiction is puzzling. As a psychological study of teenage brains and human development, maybe. But to be proud of exclusively reading fiction meant for teenagers is a little like Bethany Frankel squeezing into her toddler’s pjs — it might fit, but that might also mean there’s something seriously wrong. In this case, with popular culture’s current definition of “literature.”
Corey: Which I guess brings us around to the distinction between “fiction” and “literature,” which is probably a conversation for another time!
Stay tuned for our final installment!
Next time, we explore the future of YA literature. Kate notes that many books now considered classics started off perceived as frivolous novels. Will any of the books written now that are perceived as “frivolous young adult novels” stand the test of time?