I’m noticing a sad, somewhat disturbing, and growing trend – the disdain and dismissal of anything even hinting at being ‘YA’. This trend is most noticeable on some of the message boards and blogs I read regularly. One of the most prominent examples comes from many of the reviews by Patrick over at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist – here is an example of one such review (and a reaction from a puzzled reader). But I’m not here to single out Pat (who I certainly consider an on-line friend) since he’s not nearly alone on this – for further examples check out these discussions on some recent books (I chime in occasionally as ‘kcf’). The basic point is that many ‘adult’ readers of SFF flat-out reject anything they perceive as being YA.
I react to this in many ways – I find it disturbing, ignorant, and simply sad while trying to not fall into the same trap. Why all the hate for YA? Is it a misunderstanding of what the meaning of YA is? Is it a rejection by younger adults (say 18 to 25) of what they now perceive as kids books since they are past their adolescent years? Is it simply ignorance due to the different shelving locations and marketing pushes?
First, let’s get some definitions out of the way. What is YA?
Young-adult fiction (often abbreviated as YA fiction, or simply YA) is fiction written for, published for, or marketed to adolescents, roughly between the ages of 12 and 18.
Of course the wiki articles does go on from there, but I find this tidbit to be one of the more interesting points:
From its very beginning, young-adult fiction has portrayed teens confronting situations and social issues that have pushed the edge of then-acceptable content. Such novels and their content are sometimes referred to as "edgy."
I’m not here to debate this article, and I’m certain it can be debated, but it does provide a common ground to begin a discussion. The impression I get is that the perception of YA by many adults is that it is simply ‘kids stuff’, that tough issues are glossed over and simplified. I disagree. Remember what it was like being an adolescent? The world wasn’t simple, conflict was everywhere, and some the moral and social issues that need to be dealt with are by no means ‘kids stuff’. This is the turf of YA – we aren’t just talking about coming-of-age stories, but real human issues that have to be dealt with in life – issues that don’t (necessarily) go away in adulthood. Basically, while it may be aimed at young adults, it certainly can apply to any adult.
One of the biggest problems as I see is the same everywhere – bad writing. If a book is full of simplified, moralistic ramblings in an entirely predictable plot that has been used hundreds of times, the problem isn’t that the book is YA, the problem is poor writing. If an adult novel is despairingly called YA, then perhaps the real issue is the quality of writing of the book and not some perceived notion that it’s really just a ‘kid’s book’. A well-written YA novel is equally accessible to both adults and young adults, and it will likely deal with issues that apply to both, at least if you take the time to think of it.
Now, admittedly, I’m not that well-read in the YA field (and I hope to remedy this over time), and I’m pointing toward Harry Potter. I enjoyed those books, but they are far from the best that YA has to offer. Take a look at Little Brother (US, UK, Canada) by Cory Doctorow or anything by Margo Lanagan – her latest is Tender Morsels (US, UK, Canada). While these may be aimed toward young adults, they provide prime examples of how YA is not just for the young. Remember Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn (US, UK, Canada)? That’s certainly YA, but a beautiful work of fiction as well.
Seriously? I think getting kids to enjoy reading is a pretty necessary step, and also essential for genre, which lives or dies on its ability to hook readers on its product before they're old enough to be convinced by a bunch of illiterate teenage popularity mongers that reading genre isn't cool. So we really need to lay the table for young readers. Not every SF/F writer can or should write YA, but we need to make sure that those who do write YA in SF/F are really good writers.
Now he’s taken this in a bit of different direction than most of what I’ve discussed above, but it is another aspect worth discussion. And for more discussion, take the time to read Scalzi’smore robust answers that are found on his blog. In those discussions he points out (and rightly so from a certain point of view) that Scott Westerfeld is the most significant SFF writer out there right now, and he’s (primarily) a YA author. He also dives into the financial side of things as well and that aspect is simple – YA sells a lot more than SFF and authors writing YA stand to make a lot more money.
So, I’ve jumped around quite a bit here and worked fairly hard to tone down my annoyance about the YA stigma and keep this from entering the ranks of rant. So, what are your thoughts? Do you decry YA or are you a fervent reader of it? Are you relatively ignorant of what it has to offer? What did I miss (and what did I get right)? Please…discuss.