Young adult literature – and young adult books, which is what I call the Gossip Girl novels – have been in the news a lot lately. There’s the Hunger Games, Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey (I’ll explain how this bondage/erotica trilogy is related to YA lit in a minute), and more movie adaptations are being greenlit every day: The Fault in our Stars by John Green, which is amazing and Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, which is ok. YA literature is having a moment, as some might say. This is for a number of reasons: 1) publishers realized that they can make tons and tons of dollars by marketing these books to teens, especially if they get picked up for movies and make tons and tons of more dollars, 2) teens are getting a lot of attention these days and not just by marketers because while adolescence may be a construct but we do a lot of research on our culture’s “made up” life stage, and 3) more and more writers are writing really good books for teens. Really, I promise!
It isn’t all just Gossip Girl novels or paranormal romance copycats, though there is a lot of that, there’s some really great stuff going on. John Green, Marcus Zusak, Sarah Dessen, Melina Marchetta (looking for a great fantasy story, YA lit or not, go read Finnikin of the Rock right now), Gary D. Schmidt, Lauren Oliver, Rosemary Clement-Moore, Libba Bray: all of these authors have produced well written and quality books for teens. And there are lots of other great writers out there who really care about the teen experience. It makes sense – a lot of teen books are about growing up or at least the changes a person goes through when faced with challenges, whether they be challenges in a high school setting or the myriad other life challenges encountered when young. Think of all the classics you had to read in high school that had teen or young adult protagonists: Romeo and Juliet, The Catcher in the Rye, The Lord of the Flies, Jane Eyre, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Jane Austen’s novels, I could go on. There’s a lot! Young adults have always been in literature, just not always in their own category. And there’s good stuff in there: hard lessons about life, love, sexuality, survival, truth, beauty, deception, family, and yes, sometimes vampires.
So when I hear about Joel Stein writing in the NYT about how adult books are for adults, I’m intrigued. I tend to agree when faced with the headline. Of course adult books are for adults. Adults can read whatever they want but a good story and good writing is worth reading no matter the age level. Plus, teens read adult books, too. But this isn’t what he’s really writing about: it seems like he just wants to be polarizing and doesn’t equate things fairly. First, he’s putting Horton Hatches the Egg and the Hunger Games in the same category as “kids books.” I’m sorry, but I would NEVER let my child at the reading level of Dr. Seuss read the The Hunger Games. Hello! It’s really violent! Do your research, buddy. I also hate how he also won’t give books a chance because they are for “kids.” You’re missing out on some great books by cutting out books with more specific audiences. I know this isn’t the same, but he’d get in so much trouble if he had written the following sentences about books for other groups of people:
“I have no idea what “The Hunger Games” is like. Maybe there are complicated shades of good and evil in each character. Maybe there are Pynchonesque turns of phrase. Maybe it delves into issues of identity, self-justification and anomie that would make David Foster Wallace proud. I don’t know because it’s a book for kids.”
Well, there is complexity in the books. I don’t know if the Hunger Games would make DFW proud, but it certainly made me think a lot about reality TV and it’s role in society, what it means to love and live during and after war, the cruelty of a totalitarian government, the meaning of sacrifice, and how standing up against something can sometimes be less heroic and glamorous than necessary to just freaking live. Is that grownup enough for you, Mr. Stein? And there’s more books that tackle other grown-up and important issues. I think teens need to read them, and adults can get a lot out of them, too. I just know that I want to read the best literature that I can and that means choosing the best from adult and teen books: choosing John Green over Harlan Coben’s latest bestseller, or choosing Paul Harding over Twilight. Just choose the best, no matter the age level, and you can’t go wrong.
If you want another librarian’s response, Karen over at Teen Librarian’s Toolbox has a great one:”So adults, please – please go out and read some ya fiction. Do it to send a an important message: we value the teens in our community. Do it to remember. Do it to open yourself up once again to the possibilities of this world. Do it because it really is well written. Do it because Joel Stein told you not to and you can still be the type of individual who questions what others say and thinks for yourself.”
And yes, some young adult literature is total shit. Ahem, Twilight. I think that we should strive for greatness no matter because if we don’t then Twilight exists and then someone writes Twilight fan fiction and then turns it into 50 Shades of Grey and they make a ton of money. Out of something that was fan fiction. Seriously. Fan fiction – like Kirk and Spock banging on the Enterprise. This is not great literature and does not deserve to be published and become bestsellers. There’s nothing wrong with fan fiction, it should just live on the internet.
Ok, rant over. Go read some YA books people!