Why YA? That is the question. Not, why do I write for young people, but why does anyone? Let me put it another way: any book that is good and complex should, regardless of the age of the protagonist, be considered “adult.” Anything *good enough* for grown-ups to enjoy should be shelved where they can find it without shaming themselves by going to the “ghetto” that is the YA section.
What’s with this attitude? I must say, though I know it’s out there, I’m not exposed to it much. I mean, I don’t talk to people much. Faeries, yes. Goblins, yes. Actual people -- strangers, more to the point -- not so much. But I just happened upon this Locus review by Gary K. Wolfe of the new Margo Lanagan novel Tender Morsels (which I can’t wait to read, and oh, don’t read his review, because it is spoily as all get-out -- since when should a book review be a synopsis?), and though he’s not damning of YA, there’s something stinky-offensive in his tone--
"So even though YA remains one of those dumb categories named for its alleged audience rather than its characteristics (like men's adventure or chick lit). . ."
--and it got me thinking about this brand of prejudice. So, why YA?
Gary K. Wolfe seems to be suggesting that Tender Morsels is good, so why not just call it a really-for-true grown-up book for readers who matter? You hear this sort of thing about The Book Thief too, and other titles that happen to be brilliant books with young protagonists. Why, indeed, are these books just for children and teens? (Greedy little monsters!)
Well, of course, they’re not. They’re for readers of good books. But it offends the snobs that they’re published by “juvenile” publishers, packaged with youth-friendly covers, and shelved -- the horror -- in a special section for -- gasp!! -- the young.
Snobs, I don’t get you, and here’s what I have to say:
Because readers are not born. They are created by good books. Young people are a valid audience whose interests should be considered, in the writing of books that will turn them into Readers. Let’s not plunk kids into an adult section to forage through the body of world literature. How about we give them books -- good ones -- about characters they can relate to, and then make it easy for them to find them?
Oh, wait. That is what we do.
So, that’s why YA. And the suggestion that the rare *good* YA books should get to be elsewhere, like they’re, I don’t know, Soviet-era circus performers given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour the US and maybe defect, it’s offensive. Good YA books are not rare. While I would not say all the books in the YA section are good, neither are all the books in the adult section.
How about you grown-ups stroll yourselves on over to that YA ghetto and have a look. I bet no one will smirk at you or question your IQ, and if they do you can tell them you’re shopping for your niece. Because her television is broken.
You will discover a world of books: fun books, serious books, books with kissing, books with death, books with basketball, and mermaids, and rockstars, and zoologists, and monkeys, and weird fruit, and magic. Just go look.
I challenge you, if you have never done this (though I’m guessing most readers here do not fall prey to this prejudice): go to the YA section of your local library or bookstore and check out or buy three books. Don’t just grab them. Select carefully, and give them a real chance.
You might find that they are wonderful.
And if they are wonderful, does that mean they shouldn’t be here, where kids can easily find them without having to sift through the Clive Cusslers and Rosamunde Pilchers? No. I think they’re right where they ought to be.
Should The Book Thief have been published as a *grown-up book*? Well, that would mean that fewer young people would read it. Does the fact that it’s published as *juvenile* mean that fewer adults will read it? Probably so, but what’s more important? Would you rather have the kids have to search harder for important books they will love, or the grown-ups?
So, enough of this “ghetto” mentality. Young people aren’t cretins, and books written for them aren’t stupid. There is no shame in reading them, and there is certainly no shame in writing them.
I think one of the most important things we can do as writers is create lifelong readers, and that is something writers of *grown-up books* don’t do. We do that, my colleagues and I (though I have only just begun), and in that way, we are really important, not just to the young readers, but to the *grown-up writers* who rely on us to pass readers up the ladder to them. I mean, it’s because twenty years ago a girl read A Wrinkle in Time that she is now reading. . . uh, Eifelheim. You know?
Not that that’s why we do it -- not to roll out some red carpet toward those grown-up books -- but because of the joy of reading itself, and writing, of course, which I happen to think is at its greatest most unashamed mind-opening glory in youth fiction.
And, Gary K. Wolfe, what's so awful about The Lord of the Flies and Ender's Game, etcetera being regarded as YA? I've read them and they just are, whatever their authors' intentions might have been at the time of writing. They are lucky to get this huge, voracious audience; they should embrace it, not "mutter." Where would Lord of the Flies be without its young readers? Fall on your knees, William Golding (even if you are dead) and thank your stars for the young.
**When I say "kick a snob in the shins," I am not referring to Gary K. Wolfe. He really doesn't say anything all that bad. It's just. . . that tone.