Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Post about Young Adult Fiction

This is a post that has been in the works for months, I now realize.  Over these few blogging months, I've occasionally made reference to the fact that I don't exactly love young adult fiction.  I finally decied that it would be a good idea to write a whole post devoted to my thoughts on young adult writing.

So first of all, what is Young Adult writing?  The YA label gets thrown around a lot.  There's a YA section in the library, and YA writers are a huge category, "Young-adult fiction or young adult literature (often termed as "YA"),[1] is fiction written, published, or marketed to adolescents and young adults, although recent studies show that 45% of young-adult fiction is purchased by readers under 18 years of age. The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) of the American Library Association (ALA) defines a young adult as someone between the ages of twelve and eighteen," says Wikipedia.  I found this to be very useful information.  

So there you have the basic explanation.  Here are some of my observations about Young Adult stuff.  First of all, it's a fairly recent invention.  It's been argued that books like Little Women and Tom Sawyer were seen as the YA fiction of their time.  However, I disagree.  Little Women and Tom Sawyer are books for all ages, books that can span all kinds of time and space and have the ability to charm a 7 year old or a 40 year old.  And here's the other thing: They were written about a certain age, they weren't written for a certain viewpoint and age.  In the 80s, books written specifically for an age span of about 6 years started to crop up.  Today you can't spit without hitting a young adult book.

My second problem with the whole young adult fiction category is that a lot of it is really poorly written.  There seem to be two genres:  the entirely too mature romance fiction with ridiculously improbable situations that set girls, particularly, ridiculous expectations.  Then there's the vampire, slashing, killing, also with a side of romance, equally improbable.  Expecting teens to read just these two genres for 6 whole years is quite strange, if you think about it.  Would we ever say, "Ok, the 40-47 year olds should read mysteries.  All novels for 40-47 year olds are going to be mysteries."  Of course not!  There would be a mass rebellion!  

Third, nobody likes to be talked down to.  In the few rare times that I have picked up a young adult book, there is this condescending tone of, "See?  I can write just like you silly little youngsters talk."  Okay, so that's an extreme exaggeration, but there is a definite tone that you get from reading these books that indicates that the author finds his/her audience slightly below him/her.  

And finally, I can see the value of teenagers moving up to adult fiction at some point.  When I was about 13, I remember going to my mom and asking if I could browse in the adult section in the library.  I was thoroughly bored with the children's section and that just felt like the next step.  There was awhile there where she would glance over the books before I checked out.  I discovered a lot of wonderful authors that I still enjoy today.  I think it's a shame to get stuck in this weird middle ground and miss out on some authors that can be enjoyed by younger ages.  

Now this isn't to say that I don't approve of any middle-grade writing.  There has to be something between the adult section and the very earliest of chapter books for early elementary.  That's where good books like Little Women and Tom Sawyer come in-books that are meaningful, well-written, and fun.  

There are also good Young Adult books.  The whole genre is not trash and I don't want to be too quick to throw away the whole thing.  I have picked up Young Adult things on occasion that are well written and meaningful and fun to read and are written in an interesting, non-condescending tone.  I just recently reviewed Code Name Verity, a new-ish young adult book that was very good, although dark. 

I'd love to hear what all of you think about this (and feel free to disagree with me) in the comments.  


  1. Well, as I commented on your review of Verity, I don't quite see the point of YA fiction. Children's books, yes, we all have to start learning to read and so books reflect that. But you must reach a point where you can read anything (which is not an argument where you let children read just anything!) there has to be some consideration of content and quality, and we all reach a point where whatever age we are we read what we want to. For me that was between fifteen and sixteen, I don't seem to remember libraries (in the UK) making a distinction, had a library card and that was it (though I do think librarians would have stopped you taking out some books - but in the main I don't think they took much notice!)
    As a young adult (between seventeen and twenty roughly) I read and read, anything that looked interesting, and I suspect my mother wouldn't approved had she known (my father died when I was fifteen.)
    To repeat my comment on Verity, YAF is a contradiction, if you can read it then read it and it is up to you to make a critical judgement, I suspect if you can't then you probably wont want to read anything anyway!

  2. I tend to agree that Young Adult fiction has kind of grown out of control ... like ivy. It's interesting because of course young adults have the time to blog so I think they are even more over-represented in the blogosphere. Most of the books I get submitted are Young Adult fiction and sadly the premises all too often make me want to gag. As you say, a lot of it is very poorly written. However. However. Every so often there is some that is truly exceptional. I agree that well-written books can be enjoyed at any age. My mother really enjoyed reading the books that we read together when I was a child. I also kind of bypassed a lot of the 'teenage fiction' when I was one - I was very anti-romance at that age which ruled out a large proportion of the genre. I also had a weirdly high reading age. I think though that it can provide a useful scaffold for young people not quite ready to move into the adult section. I still think though that there's no excuse for Twilight.

    1. Haha! I laughed at your Twilight comment and your comparison to ivy. Thanks for the comment! I always love reading your thoughts.