Hello. My name is Tammy and I’m a reader of YA. Since 2001 I’ve had an addiction to Young Adult Fiction.
I am at a loss and truly do not know where to start, so I guess that is about as good a place as any.
It started with an article written by Ruth Graham for slate.com. In the article, she basically demeans any and everyone who is over the age of 18 that does not read “serious adult literature”. Her target in particular is young adult fiction, but her editorial encompasses all genre fiction. In her opinion, we adults who read YA should be ashamed of ourselves and she tells us we’re better than that.
I am not going to recount the full article, but I admit I take issue with her opinion. Now, I am of the mind that everyone is entitled to my, I mean, their opinion. I will not belittle, demean, insult, humiliate, or any other verb you want to add, anyone for stating their opinion. I will also not belittle, demean, insult, humiliate, etc., anyone for what they read. People have a right to their opinion and they have a right to read what they want to read. Ms. Graham and others’ of her opinion don’t need to look over our shoulders and read what we are reading. If it bothers her that much, she can go to a university library and watch people reading there.
I have a lot of opinions about reading YA, and genre fiction as well as general adult fiction.
To start, what is YA? It is a label. It is a demographic. It is a marketing strategy. But that doesn’t mean that other people not in that demographic would not be interested in it. I don’t live in Wyoming, but that doesn’t mean I can’t listen to country music. The protagonists in the books are teenagers, but that doesn’t mean that adults would not enjoy the story. Ms. Graham discounts the belief that YA books are more sophisticated now. Needless to say, I do not share her opinion in any way and it is not because I read YA.
Part of the argument is that the stories are too simplistic; A + B + C = Happy Ending. I have read a lot of YA and there is a lot of YA I tried to read, but found that I could not. A good writer is a good writer. Just because a book might be tagged as YA does not mean that it is not complex, but not all YA is as well written as other books. If a book is well written, it should be worthy of being read no matter who the target audience. In the words of Ms. Graham, “these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple.” She goes on to say, “These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction.”
Perhaps part of the reason we read YA is due to nostalgia, perhaps part of it is being taken back to a simpler time in our lives. Perhaps we like the happy ending because there is so much tragedy and so much wrong in our world. Is it wrong to want to be in a place where we experience joy in our reading, even if only for a little while? Who mandated that the only worthy literary material to read for an adult should be true to life, serious works of fiction? There is a lot wrong with this world and I do not want to spend the short blissful hours I have reading about death, destruction, poverty, murder, corruption, infidelity, suicide, drug addition, terminal illness, misery, pain, suffering, etc. That stands for both YA books and adult books. Reading should be fun. I don’t want it to be a chore. I don’t particularly enjoy tear jerkers about cancer patients, which takes nothing away from The Fault in Our Stars by the way. For me, it is just not what I like to read about. That doesn’t mean that if someone does enjoy tear jerkers geared towards younger readers that they should not be able to read them simply because they are over the age of 18.
Ms. Graham also states, “But mature readers also find satisfaction of a more intricate kind in stories that confound and discomfit, and in reading about people with whom they can’t empathize at all.” With this I take issue. I do not enjoy any of these things and I don’t like being told that I do. I don’t want to be discomfited and while I do like intrigue and plot twists, they can be found in stories for all ages. Adult fiction doesn’t corner the market. I take solace in my reading. It’s a happy place, not a miserable place. I am offended that this article presumes to speak for me. To tell me what I should and should not like, what I should and should not read.
If we were to take a stroll through the literary fiction section, what would we find? Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, Dracula, Frankenstein, Aesop’s Fables, works by Lord Dunsany, Shakespeare, William Butler Yeats, Hans Christian Andersen, Poe and many others. These are all books that can be considered literature, but they are full of magic and some, whimsy. They appeal to all ages. My hubby was reading Poe and other literary fiction when he was 8 years of age. Should he not have been allowed to read any of it because he was too young to understand? He may not have understood all the complexities of the works he read, but he understood plenty. Many of the books on high school summer reading lists are adult titles. Should they be removed from the summer reading program because they are beyond the comprehension of the younger reader? It should work both ways then. They don’t read our books and we don’t read theirs. That, however, would be a disservice to the younger reader who is trying to improve his or her reading comprehension. Furthermore, as an adult, I have spent a lifetime reading enough text books, literature and heavier reading that I feel I have earned the right to kick back and relax without being subject to criticism.
It is a ridiculous concept to presume to tell people what they should read, what they should enjoy, what they should understand and, frankly, to act their age. In my opinion, that stodgy attitude causes people to age prematurely. I am not young anymore, but I have a youthful mind. I can also say without bragging, just stating facts, that I have a very high IQ and have a high comprehension level. I don’t read YA because I am too simple. I read much of it because that is where the magic is.
What is wrong with looking at life and seeing the magic? The possibilities? Wanting a better world to live in? If it’s not going to happen in real life, why not on paper? Why try to stifle a person’s sense of wonder and imagination? Why not let them enjoy their escape in whatever type of book appeals to them? One person’s escape may be Dickens while another’s might be Get Fuzzy. What is wrong with that? Our country was founded on the melting pot philosophy. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. There is a place for all books and it is up to us, we the readers, to decide what we find a worthy book. Who cares if adults are reading YA books and young readers are reading adult books? The point of the matter is that we are reading! Let’s not lose sight of that.
I read YA, but I also read literature, poetry, drama, adult Sci Fi, manga and sometimes romance. Yes, I know it is mostly genre books, which is also part of the “problem” per the article. A lot of the titles have adult situations and adult characters. A good story is a good story and worth reading. A badly written story is badly written regardless of the demographic and is not something I would spend my time on. Our society has been working towards removing labels, so I find it disconcerting that anyone needs to point fingers and call names. But more importantly, what I read is my business and no one else’s.
Ruth Graham article on slate.com
Lauren Davis Rebuttal on i09
More commentary by S.E. Smith at dailydot.com
Any thoughts? I'd love to hear any opinions on this.