Friday, April 27, 2012

Why I Read YA (aka how to get published in your high school's newspaper)

Guys, this was a big week for me.   Why?  Well, I got published.  In my high school's newspaper.  I KNOW.  One step away from a Pulitzer!   While I haven't been working on posts that I was supposed to post a long time ago (I'm looking at you, Anne of Green Gables), I was writing this, and being edited by an awesome and thoughtful teenage journalist.  My students are the best!  

You may have seen the buzz about YA being acceptable/unacceptable fare for adults all over the news.  If not, now you know!  You're welcome.  You can also find out more about the debate at the YALSA blog on YA, The Hub, where a recent post titled "Consensus is Building: It's Okay to Read YA," compiles a bunch of articles and postings on the debate.  Here are my two cents on the YA is acceptable for adults debacle the Internet has been having of late:

Why I Read YA

Recently, the New York Times online column “Room for Debate” posted a topic in response to the newly released Hunger Games movie. The topic: “The Power of Young Adult Fiction.” That young adult fiction (YA) can be powerful was not news to me; you could say that reading and being familiar with young adult fiction is a professional responsibility. But is it a hardship? Nope. Do I enjoy it? Definitely. I have to admit I took the bait and was a little peeved when I read Joel Stein’s take, titled “Adults Should Read Adult Books. “I’m here to address Mr. Stein and tell you, why I, a real, live, honest-to-goodness adult, proudly admit to reading and even enjoying YA fiction.
Let’s overlook the easily dispelled logical flaws in the “adults should only read adult books” argument, because using this logic, men should only read books about men, parents should never read books to their children, and, not being a hobbit, I should never have read The Lord of the Rings. Mr. Stein makes one solid, albeit short-sighted point. He says, “Books are one of our few chances to learn.” He’s right, books are a great way to learn; isn’t that what most people here do all day, using some form of text? However, learning opportunities provided by books are not limited just to literal lessons about science, math, throwing a really good tea party in Boston Harbor, or structuring an excellent sentence (hint: not like this). Books, for all ages and all reading levels, allow us to travel through time and space, to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, all while sitting at home. They offer an opportunity to empathize with and understand someone by being immersed in his/her story. Books allow us to develop problem-solving skills without actually having a major problem on our hands. Books help you identify characteristics and traits you want in friends, or even in yourself. They make you laugh, they make you cry, and they make you feel, regardless of what age group they are marketed to. Books? They open your mind.  

Mr. Stein, it is the truth that most required high school fiction fits into the ‘written for adults’ category. Books likeJane EyreNative Son, and Great Expectations are beautifully written, with rich description, evocative language, and thought-provoking topics. But what about To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye? Though you eschew books for teens, perhaps you’ve heard of them. With teenage protagonists and strong coming-of-age themes, I guarantee that if these books were published today, you would find them on the young adult shelves of your local bookstore. And you know what else? I guarantee you they would be in good company.
I may be biased, but there is some powerful stuff popping up in the YA fiction market. Say what you will aboutHarry Potter and Twilight, but their success opened doors for authors to try new things. Frankly, I’m not sure a publisher would have taken a risk on The Hunger Games without those two. These open doors have led to some truly powerful YA fiction. Mr. Stein, I dare you to read Stolen, by Lucy Christopher, and not be haunted by the desert and be left feeling like you, too, are recovering from Stockholm syndrome. I dare you to read The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, by M.T. Anderson, and deny that it is elegant, heartbreaking historical fiction. I dare you to try to read Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy slowly, ignoring the questions of ethics, morality, and humanity. I dare you to read Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time-Indianwithout crying and laughing (craughing?) at the same time. I’d go on, but we’d be here for days.
I am a firm believer that independent reading is hugely important, both for learning and for a three letter word: FUN. Sure, not every teen book will help you score a 2400 on the SAT, but neither will all adult books. Both adults and teens are incredibly busy, and rarely have an abundance of time to sleep, let alone read for pleasure. I enjoy some gorgeously written books that could double as a doorstop, but appreciate being able to finish a book in a week or two, with spare time to do other things like sleep. When I have only ten minutes to read something, I want to enjoy it. If I can find a fantastic story, engaging characters, and great writing in under 400 pages, I’m game, even if it’s not an adult book. For speed, entertainment, and writing that is daring and occasionally beautiful, I often turn to YA. Mr. Stein, I encourage you to lighten up, join us, and read a YA novel. Who knows, maybe it’ll even help you open your mind.
Read “The Power of Young Adult Fiction” online at

1 comment:

Gav Collins said...

I started 2011 as a "I'll-only-read-books-designed-for-me" jerk too, but I'm fast becoming a convert. A healthy amount of wifely persuasion has helped, and I took the plunge with Chaos Walking.

And I didn't hate it.

And on Sat, I picked up The Hunger Games.

And now I can't wait to get home this evening and find out what happens next.

No doubt, books are designed for specific audiences. But they start growing as soon as the author puts the pen down. To say a book should be limited entirely to the demographic it was originally intended for is to hugely underestimate the power of literature. Now I figure if you can't find at least something to like in most books you pick up, you're not looking hard enough.

Viva la YA revolution!

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