Surely we demand of "adult" writers (or perhaps what I really mean is "great" writers) higher moral and philosophical stakes?
Friday, December 19, 2008
Revisioning and Ranting (on the YA/adult divide)
As anyone who has talked to me or seen my facebook updates recently knows, I'm in the process of revising my second book for Delacorte Press (which is a loose sequel to The Forest of Hands and Teeth and will be coming out Spring 2010).
Thankfully, with the help of this article in The New Yorker, I know what I was doing wrong with the first draft. I was trying to be complicated. I was trying to be challenging and have complex themes. I wasn't stuffing it full of morals (hard to fit in a "no drinking and driving" message when there aren't cars and driving, but now I know I must find a way.) It's a shame I'm just learning these things now because it's too late to fix all of this in FHT!
But honestly, the greatest relief came when I read this line:
The relief comes in knowing that I can lower my expectations for myself and my book. I'm not an adult writer, therefore I don't have to strive for higher stakes. Whew! Talk about a load off!
Of course, my hope is that Mishan said "adult writers" and then realized that this was too narrow of a category and decided to broaden her description to mean "great writers." However, I think this phrase can also be read to mean "adult writers = great writers." Take your pick of interpretations (and notice that some prominent YA authors gave their own thoughts in the comments to the article).
What's interesting is that my friend Diana Peterfreund sent me the link to this article because this is something we've been discussing and is something that she's blogged about recently. I'd mentioned to her that sometimes when I talk to people about my book I won't call it a YA but might call it a crossover instead. I've seen way too many times that people will perk up when they find out I have a book coming out only to go "oh," and have their faces fall when I mention it's young adult. Maybe they're expecting sparkleponies or something and don't understand what YA has become today.
Even my mom admitted feeling a little weird the first time she ventured into the YA section of the bookstore. I told her to get over it since that's where my book would be (and trust me, come March 10 I have a feeling she'll be setting up a tent in the YA section and shoving FHT into every hand that passes by... actually, she'll prob just take over the loud speaker and say "My baby wrote a book!"). In fact, I think most of my family were a little taken aback when they read my book because I don't think they know what YA has become and so they didn't know what to expect.
And maybe that's part of what's going on. Maybe that's why you have Caitlin Flanagan saying "I hate YA novels; they bore me" in a review that says two paragraphs later "Twilight is fantastic." I couldn't tell from the article what YA she's read recently. Can she really say that The Hunger Games bored her? Graceling? Uglies? The Book Thief? Skin Hunger? The House of the Scorpion? Little Brother? And if it's vampire romances she finds fantastic, what about the Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead that's been hitting the NYT list?
When someone says something so qualitative as "I hate YA novels; they bore me," I just have to wonder what YA novels they've been reading. Because honestly, I think YA novels these days are the best they've ever been! To me YA novels are incredibly complex and dynamic and daring. I feel like I see YA authors take more risks than adult authors.
I don't have as much of a problem with someone hating YA novels or calling YA books "facile" or "having uncomplicated themes and morals" or "boring" or merely "light and fun reads" and having lower moral and philosophical stakes if they'd actually read enough YA to form an opinion. Of course, perhaps the people in the article *have* read tons of YA and legitimately feel that way and perhaps I should give them that benefit of the doubt.
And yet, I cannot honestly believe that anyone could read Hunger Games or Looking for Alaska or The House of the Scorpion or any other number of YA novels out today and think that YA is facile, uncomplicated, light and having low stakes. Instead, I think most of the opinions expressed in that article are born out of ignorance, of hazy memories of what they read back in high school and what they *think* YA is like today based on a few ads for Gossip Girl on the CW.
I feel as though some people feel the need to denigrate all of YA as somehow being "lesser than." And yet at the same time, if you ask these same people to distinguish between YA and adult, they rarely can. Just look at the abovementioned article to see how difficult it is for them to decide what makes something YA. Take for example this distinction: "I assume that anything branded 'young adult' needs... to be not too long or challenging"
Really? Really? Really? I'm just agog at this one because at the very least you don't have to read any YA but just glance at a YA shelf or two to realize that length is not the dividing line between YA and adult. Or remember that teens are reading Faulkner and Shakespeare (and Faulkner ranks up there in the challenging spectrum).
You know what divides YA and adult? Which shelf someone decided to put it on. And you know how they probably made that decision? They put it on whichever shelf will help them sell more copies. There are lots of books being published as YA today that would have been published as adult books 10 years ago because YA is doing well and sales have increased while adult sales have decreased.
I wear my YA badge with pride. But I also know that some people are going to write me and my book off the minute they hear it's YA. I'm fine if they write me and FHT off, I'd just rather they do it after they've read my book rather than jumping to conclusions based on a marketing label or where it's shelved.