Monday, June 9, 2014

I Won't Be Shamed for Reading YA

An article came out a few days ago detailing why adults should feel ashamed for reading YA. First, Ruth Graham asserts that YA fiction of the 90's is just as good as it is now, which I vehemently disagree with. I devoured books by R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike when I was much younger, but many of those books aren't as well written or varied as what's available now. I've tried to reread some of them and find that I've outgrown them. I appreciate that they shaped me as a reader, but they just don't hold my attention anymore. Sure there are some great books, but overall, the quality has gotten much better over the years as the genre has expanded.

Graham also asserts that love of YA stems from instant gratification, nostalgia, and escapism. Escapism is a reason to read anything. Nostalgia may play into it, but I think it has more to do with the fact that movement from teen to adult is one of the most powerful experiences of our lives and it makes for powerful storytelling. In an age where there is no defined experience that introduces us into adulthood, it isn't surprising that people turn to literature to get that experience in some capacity over and over again. So Graham, maybe you didn't like The Fault in Our Stars because you just didn't like it. Saying you don't like because you're an adult is ridiculous and you're basically calling everyone who likes it a child.

I find no evidence in the assumption that we have to abandon the adult perspective to like YA books. I like some books because I completely give in to the emotional aspects and forgive the maybe not great writing, like Twilight. I find these to be brain candy, but books like this are not exclusive to YA. I like a great many other teen books for a variety of reasons: writing, world building, characters, themes, etc. She also asserts that the endings of YA books are too simplistic. The problem with much of this article is that she seems to be writing about one type of books rather than encompassing all of YA. I think she read The Fault in Our Stars and decided that since it's revered, it must be the same as every other YA novel. You wouldn't do that for any adult book, so don't do it for YA.

The fact that she has to define a book she read as "literary" is ridiculous. Every book is literary. To say that a particular genre is not is a lazy way of dismissing it as low quality without actually looking critically at the individual books. Science fiction and fantasy are looked down upon as "unliterary" genres, but the numerous great books in those genres disproves that. Instead of being an elitist, why not just enjoy reading what you like to read instead of building yourself up by shaming others.

The assertion that more new adults would not move on to adult books is also not proven. With around a third of people not reading any books at all, the passion and excitement that YA books have given both teens and adults for reading is amazing. Why begrudge those people because of what they choose to read? C.S. Lewis said, "Critics who treat 'adult' as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adults themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on in middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of being really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up." I think he brings up excellent points. This critical view of literature written for youth isn't new, but it's nice that public opinion has been swayed more towards acceptance.

So, for some other compelling reasons to keep reading what you like without shame, read this wonderful list and this hilarious rebuttal. Ignore the haters and keep reading.

1 comment:

Niala Wesley said...

When I was a kid and teenager I read almost exclusively adult books and it wasn't until I was an adult that I became obsessed with YA and J books.