This morning over breakfast I found myself reading Alice's tactfully balanced post about this click-bait Slate article condemning YA literature. ALL YA literature. Which you should be embarrassed to admit to reading, ever, apparently. And I got to writing a comment, which turned into a longer comment, which eventually I just gave up editing and turned into this post instead. Hello! Just a quick heads up: you should probably go read the article first, then come back. Ready? Okay...
So, let's get straight into this. The thing that REALLY bugs me about this article is the way that everything is set in absolutes. No mention is made, for example, of the many people out there who read occasional YA and also a lot of other adult books. In a similar vein, according to Graham, all YA is trashy and all adult books are not. Rainbow Rowell is lumped in with Stephenie Meyer, just as in adult fiction, Sophie Kinsella is universally recognised to be on a par with Charlotte Bronte. Orrrrrr not. You can't make sweeping accusations about how all young adult literature is mindless froth any more than you can posit that reading a John Grisham novel is on a par to reading something by Ray Bradbury. And OH NO YOU DIDN'T just include The Perks of Being a Wallflower as an example of an inconceivable crappy modern page-to-screen success story.
Now, don't get me wrong, if this article had been written in a more balanced, less deliberately offensive manner, I might have agreed with parts of it. For example, I absolutely agree that it's sad to see a lot of grown women, in particular, writing off anything from the general fiction section of a bookstore as being 'too hard', and seeming quite proud of their determination not to so much as LOOK there for something they might enjoy. I heard this in my bookshop several times, I've heard it while browsing in Waterstones, I've heard it in my local library... In taking this particular stance, YA readers are guilty of the exact same thing as Graham and other YA-detractors: dismissing an entire section of the literary world as not being worthy of their attention.
My problem is that Graham (and many of the commenters) leave no room for ANYONE over the age of about 17 who ever reads and enjoys a YA novel to chime in without feeling ashamed about it. People who occasionally read the popular novels making the transition to the big screen got shamed in the comments for deigning to give them any attention. Even someone who had only read Harry Potter got slammed because she didn't have kids, therefore THERE WAS NO EXCUSE FOR SUCH SLOPPY BEHAVIOUR.
Whatever happened to 'everything in moderation'? I mean, I love risotto and strawberries and broccolli and grapes, but DAMMIT give me a donut or a hamburger every once in a while and I'll be a happy camper. Especially if it's red hot outside or I'm super-tired or I've just finished something heavier and more virtuous. And sometimes I will sob all over that donut and proclaim that it's one of the best things I've eaten all year, right alongside the aforementioned strawberries, because YUM.
|This metaphor just got weird.|
The point is that for me, YA literature usually does make for easier reading (though that doesn't mean there aren't profound messages and hard-hitting subjects being tackled, or that the writing is any less skilled or even beautiful), because YA is designed for a younger audience - but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy it as part of my reading diet. I certainly don't feel ashamed or embarrassed by it. Sometimes I go two months without picking up a single YA novel; sometimes I have a run of several together - but I'm most definitely not going to cut out a swathe of potential reading material just because I'm over 18.
Yes, I do sometimes wish that solely-YA readers would broaden their horizons and stop being so blanket-dismissive of adult books; likewise I wish people who are outright hostile to YA would find a handful of really good ones to enjoy and realise that a YA label isn't synonymous with a mark of poor quality. Personally I'm glad I've found a middle ground where I can walk into a bookshop or library and explore EVERYTHING; as a result I know that there's something on my bookshelves for every reading whim, covering both adult AND young adult or children's literature: when I want to learn about a particular subject, when I want a classic to curl up with, when I want a compelling modern read, when I want drama and complexity, and when I just want a page-turner to splash out on a sunlounger with for a few hours or race through during a readathon. I win, as far as I'm concerned. :)
Over to you! What do you think of the Slate article? Are you a devout YA-er, a firm reader of adult books, or do you believe in a happy medium of just sampling a bit of everything the literary universe has to offer? Do you find yourself having to defend your reading choices, and how does that makes you feel? Which books would you recommend to YA readers who want to branch into adult fiction, or for adult readers who are sceptical of what YA has to offer?