The books marketed to teenagers seem to have waned in tackling serious issues like race or sexism, and perpetuate messages of misogyny a la ‘Twilight’; in retrospect, books such as ‘The Hunger Games’16 valiantly do their best to right such wrongs, and to be fair to the series, while the writing is mediocre, the themes of anti-authoritarianism, class struggles, and female empowerment are admirable. Then again, female empowerment is the fashionable thing these days, with everyone from Miley Cyrus to Beyoncé embracing the dreaded F-Bomb, calling themselves feminists. Because all the cool kids are doing it so why not? But as commercialized as feminism might be becoming, to decry any work of art, be it written or visual, for depicting female strength is a fallacy I won’t indulge. But it is pertinent to keep it in mind when considering the travesty that YA has become.
No adult needs to be ashamed for enjoying great works of fiction that just happen to be YA. But there is a great deal of shame in being an adult who likes mediocre writing and clichéd plots. If 30- to 40-year-olds garner contempt for enjoying YA, it is because you expect someone who is an actual adult to possess the emotional maturity and intellect to recognize crap writing for what it is, rather than weeping emotionally over it like a naïve child. To focus on the argument, “this book is for young people and I am not young so I think it is terrible” is a reductive approach, considering that we’ve already established great works of fiction to be distinctly YA. The problem is a distinct lack of intellectual and emotional maturity that render you incapable of differentiating between good writing and bad writing, regardless of what genre it may belong to.
In an increasingly capitalist world, it seems that there is a profit-focused interest towards publishing books that can turn into blockbuster movies, or at the very least top bestseller lists. And that is the problem with the genre today. I could name more books of course, to lend credence to the argument but that focuses attention on individual books and deflects from the actual problem; for argument’s sake, we’ve established that a) the YA genre gave us some of the greatest works of fiction, b) that the problem isn’t with reading YA but rather, reading poorly-written YA, and c) that the genre has suffered from love of money and fame. On the basis of these premises, the alarming popularity of mediocre fiction should be a matter of concern, but isn’t. Of course, when you have a large group of YA enthusiasts one side, and a small minority shaking their heads with disgust on the other, it becomes difficult for either to make their case. But if we consider John Williams’ ‘The Great Y.A Debate of 2014’,18 one can’t help but sympathize with Kat Graham; if you’re 40-years-old and cooing over ‘Eleanor and Park’, 19 you deserve to be judged for your lack of emotional maturity. It’s uncomfortable to write, considering that you’re telling people they’re liking the wrong things. It isn’t easy to write about literature and write about people liking the wrong sort of literature. But it’s still a valid point.
When I started this article, I was determined to “bash” the fans of horrible books that make me want to cry because of how bad they are. My love for research was my undoing, as I quickly realized how many cherished favourites counted as YA, but that also led to the realization that forms the crux of my argument; the problem is with poor writing, not with an entire genre. We can’t tell people what to read, but we can certainly criticize poor literature when it gains undeserved success without secretly wondering if we’re too pretentious or sanctimonious. And to bemoan the difficulty of establishing what is, or isn’t good literature is ridiculous. If the book has a female protagonist referring to her breasts as hushpuppies during shower sex, you know it’s time to put the book down and ask yourself where you’re going with your life.
“Read YA and adult books. Read male authors, female authors, black authors, white authors, Native American authors, Asian authors, straight authors, gay authors, short stories, 700-page epics, classic novels, contemporary novels, graphic novels, fantasy stories, (yes) detective novels, thrillers, romance, and realism — for all ages. Read it all,”20 writes Caitlin and I’ll insert an addendum to that sentiment; read it all, but don’t read terrible writing and expect not to be judged for it.
- Green, John, ‘The Fault in Our Stars’; Penguin Group, 2012
- Hinton, S.E., ‘The Outsiders’; Penguin Group, 1967
- Blume, Judy, ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’; Simon & Schuster, 1970
- Blume, Judy, ‘Forever…’ Simon & Schuster, 1975
- Salinger, J.D., ‘The Catcher in the Rye’; Little, Brown and Company, 1951
- L’Engle, Madeleine, ‘The Time Quintet’; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1962
- Walker, Alice, ‘The Color Purple’; Harcourt Inc., 2003
- Cabot, Meg, ‘The Mediator Series’; Simon & Schuster, 2000 and HarperCollins, 2003
- Smith, L.J., ‘The Vampire Diaries’; HarperCollins, 2007
- Rowling, J.K., ‘The Harry Potter Series’; Bloomsbury, 1997
- Meyer, Stephanie, ‘The Twilight Saga’; Little, Brown and Company, 2005
- Roth, Veronica, ‘Divergent Series’; HarperCollins, 2011
- Chbosky, Stephen, ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’; Simon & Schuster, 1999
- Graham, Ruth, ‘Against YA’; Slate.com, June 2014
- Sparks, Nicholas, ‘A Walk to Remember’; Time Warner Publishing, 1999
- Collins, Suzanne, ‘The Hunger Games Trilogy’; Scholastic Inc., 2009
- Beck, Julie, ‘The Adult Lessons of YA Fiction’; The Atlantic, June 2014
- Williams, John, ‘The Great Y.A. Debate of 2014’; Sunday Book Review, The New York Times Company, June 2014
- Rowell, Rainbow, ‘Rainbow & Park’; St. Martin’s Press, 2013
- 20. White, Caitlin, ‘Adults Reading YA Isn’t That Big of a Deal (But No One Should Have to Tell You That)’; Bustle.com, June 2014