The Compulsive Reader: What I Wish the Writer of That Slate Article (and Every Other Article Knocking YA) Would Read

Monday, June 9, 2014

What I Wish the Writer of That Slate Article (and Every Other Article Knocking YA) Would Read

Something big is happening in the YA world, so of course it’s time for another inflammatory, condescending, stuck-up article about YA. In case you missed it, it’s here on Slate. (And this is not the first time I takeissue with snobby Slate article, incidentally.)

As a reader, seller, writer, and student (MFA, bam) of YA lit, this is not news. So much so that it almost makes me want to shrug and move on because, hey, it’ll happen again. I am judged by my love of YA every day, and I’m belittled because my expert knowledge is on children’s books, not “real” books. I won’t lie and say that I haven’t played the “I’m studying for my Master’s degree” card when people ask me why I’m reading kids’ and teens’ books. Academia is an easy way to feel validated about oneself and one’s choice of study, especially when you’re tired or your feet hurt or you just really want to get back to your book rather than take the time to explain that YA is awesome.

But the thing is: I’d still be reading and writing and loving what I do, even without my formal education.

So, no, the fact that someone took it upon herself to tell adults they should be ashamed of reading YA doesn’t particularly bother me or surprise me as much as how the article was written and what the writer chose to focus on. Here’s a rule of thumb: If the writer of an article would like to hinge her argument on The Fault in Our Stars, John Green, Twilight, The Hunger Games, or any other book with a movie adaptation or a slot on a bestseller list, then I think it’s safe to assume that he or she is not very well-read.

I blame a lot of this misconception about what young adult is and isn’t on the fact that most people can’t seem to comprehend what constitutes a genre. Young adult is not a genre. Young adult is a category of literature (that’s right, I said literature) under which many genres exist. Genre is a tricky beast. It’s less defined by boundaries and what things are than it is by the core ideas and tropes at the center of a book and what things are not. Not following me? That’s okay. Genre isn’t easy to grasp, and it should make you think. But here’s something I hold to be true: Dismissing YA as a genre is dangerous because it overlooks the nuances and history of YA books (which is rich and varied and exciting) and opens YA up to the criticism of those who have only read those big books that get made into movies (hence the Slate article and every other negative article about YA on the internet).

The writer of the Slate article refers to YA books, saying, “These are the books that could plausibly be said to be replacing literary fiction in the lives of their adult readers. And that’s a shame.”

What (I think) she is arguing for here is diversity in reading habits. Ignoring the fact that people can choose to read whatever the hell they want without shame, I like that she thinks people need to read widely. I wish she had gone about making this argument a bit better, with a lot less condescension, but reading widely is important and it’s also exciting and a little scary if you’ve never done so. So in the interests of reading widely (ahem), here is a list of YA books that I think maybe she ought to read. You know, books that aren’t The Fault in Our Stars or Twilight or Divergent. Books with endings that might not be so satisfying. With characters who might not be so likable. Books that are complex. Astonishing writing. Weird facts. Unfamiliar characters. All of that. It’s here. It’s in YA. And we are not ashamed.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

(Interestingly enough, this book was originally published as an adult book in Australia, then as YA in the US. For marketing reasons. We didn’t even talk about marketing, but once we do, this whole YA vs adult argument begins to deconstruct itself.)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Anything by A.S. King, but especially Ask the Passengers

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Happy reading!


HilLesha said...

I just got done reading Out of the Easy. Really good book! :)

Amanda said...

I've been reading a lot of posts in response to that terrible Slate article, and I must say I think yours is one of the best.
I definitely think it's important to be well-versed in something before attacking it as thoroughly as Graham does. And if you're not that well-versed, then admit it!
And you make such a good point about what is and isn't a genre. I agree completely that YA is not a genre. It's about an age range, an audience group, etc. Not the same!
I've read a few of the books you listed here, and, even though I haven't loved them all, I respected the works and could find value within them. Thanks for this list, though - I will definitely make the effort to pick up those you've mentioned that I haven't read yet!

Eden Jean said...

Grasshopper Jungle is SO SO good, and strange, and diverse, and weird, and literary, and important. She really should read it.