Sunday, April 1, 2012

Legitimizing YA Lit

After reading Joel Stein's recent column, and nearly ranting on Facebook, I've decided to just get out my view of young adult literature and why the world needs to sit up and take YA lit seriously.

I've only recently stood straight when I tell people I read young adult literature, only recently have I begun sharing this love of mine with my friends and family. There is a a bit of that Twilight-tinge to any mention of young adult. The Twilight saga is really, a small sliver of this vibrant field, yet it is the most recognized. So when you say - young adult, most people think - well, what is that, like vampires and stuff? Well, some of it is, and you can categorize by vampires and faeries, angels and werewolves, real teens facing real problems, oppressive governments, or in the words of Joel Stein, "games you play when hungry." But breaking YA down into those categories often allows the outside world to squeeze an entire field into a stereotype. Cheerleader, jock, goth, loser, bad seed are labels used to place people into nice categories so no one really has to take the time to break down an individual. Same with YA lit. Call something a dystopia and it's just like The Hunger Games. If it's paranormal, it goes in the Twilight category. The same way people don't completely fit into any one category (with few exceptions of course) neither do books.

Categorizations are nice for readers to be able to determine at a glance whether a book is right for him/her. The problem is, these labels are swallowing the field and presenting a shallow face to those who aren't readers. Or those who are pretentious readers of adult literature only. I want to circle back to Joel Stein's assertion that adults should read only books written for adults, where he says that seeing a grown man reading The Hunger Games, is just embarrassing. Here's my issue with that statement: what exactly is he defining as a book written for adults? The literary canon is littered with books that, had they been published within the last decade or so, they would likely have been labeled YA.

Pride and Prejudice, for example. Elizabeth Bennet and her younger sisters on the quest for the perfect man, complete with handsome soldiers and lots of dancing. Sounds like YA to me.
Even a good portion of Wuthering Heights depicts teen angst. A number of gothic novels have young heroines and supernatural elements. My Antonia is narrated by a teenage boy. Or look at Daisy Miller or Holden Caulfield. Or Lord of the Rings for crying out loud. How about Charles Dickens? Oliver Twist was not an adult, nor was Esther from Bleak House. Let's not forget that Charles Dickens published his books serially, so the fact that YA lit often gains its readers by presenting stories in series should not be completely snubbed. The recognition of YA is relatively new, but really it's not a new concept.

Matt de la Peña wrote an article contributing to this discussion and he states, "I believe many of tomorrow's canon can be found in today's young adult section." I agree with this whole-heartedly, especially considering what has made it into the canon in the past. But also because YA is like any other field of literature - it has its publications that are probably better forgotten by contemporary collective conscious, there are publications that are wonderful as entertainment, and there are those that contribute to a conversation.  

There are books I read in the YA field where I stop and think that a century from now this will be held as an example of what was going on in our world here in the beginning of the 21st century. Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff is one I think will withstand the test of time - others, I feel, have that potential as well include the incredible Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, or anything that John Green has written or will ever write.


These books are already showing up in high school curriculum. Like it or not, sooner or later the "adults" in this world will be the people who grew up reading YA lit. But what is even more awesome, should you choose to embrace it, is that we have this incredible opportunity to read these books when they're first surfacing. I can only imagine how incredible it will be to tell my grand kids that I read Harry Potter when the first book came out in the late 90's. Or that I can still remember the first time I read John Green. Or that The Giver was one of my favorite childhood books. I can imagine passing my collection of books down and having that mean something.
YA is the future of literature and for personal and collective reasons, I sincerely hope that the outside world - whether we're talking about pop culture, business, or academics - will come to see it as a legitimate field.

I'd love to know what you think about YA and the future of literature. You can also read more about the New York Times debate here.

5 comments:

  1. Wonderful post! I'm still a ''Young Adult'' but I don't see myself ever giving up on reading YA. Life is so short, why shouldn't we read what we enjoy?

    It's funny, when I was a young teen all I wanted to read was ''adult'' books but now that I'm getting older, most of the books I read are YA. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Personally, I find it's like nailing down jello to even determine what exactly YA is other than the obvious (written toward a age level audience) because even then- I've read YA that read like adult and vice versa. Hey, a good story is a good story as far as I'm concerned.

    Thanks for the post!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow, this post is truly impressive! I totally agree, but I'd never be able to say it like that!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Awesome post Hannah! I've noticed sometimes when I tell people what book I'm reading, they make some comment like "...and how old are you?" as if YA isn't legit, and I think that's ridiculous. God forbid I want to enjoy what I'm reading. Thanks again for this post :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. I think this is a well-inspired post! I've been meaning to comment on it since it popped up in my inbox but alas, life got in the way!
    But, I totally agree with you. YA literature is "degraded" due to the few books that become big-hits despite not being great works of "art".
    These books put a bad name on all YA lit out there. Twilight is, and probably always will be, a good example of this.

    Often, when telling people I'm reading a YA book, or run a majorly YA blog, I hear, "Isn't that just like.. highschool girl meets boy, and falls in love with the hottest guy ever?". It ALWAYS makes me want to headdesk when I hear it. Just because a FEW books are like that, doesn't mean that they all are!

    I have only recently come back to reading after taking a long hiatus due to my studies, and I am so glad to be back in the game now. YA lit is really only getting started and I totally believe that it is about to take the world by storm. Soon people will realise the power behind the topics and words within many YA lit books and will stand up straight and fall in line with the rest of us avid YA readers. I am sure of it! ;)

    Great post, I love it!
    Faye :)

    ReplyDelete

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Legitimizing YA Lit

After reading Joel Stein's recent column, and nearly ranting on Facebook, I've decided to just get out my view of young adult literature and why the world needs to sit up and take YA lit seriously.

I've only recently stood straight when I tell people I read young adult literature, only recently have I begun sharing this love of mine with my friends and family. There is a a bit of that Twilight-tinge to any mention of young adult. The Twilight saga is really, a small sliver of this vibrant field, yet it is the most recognized. So when you say - young adult, most people think - well, what is that, like vampires and stuff? Well, some of it is, and you can categorize by vampires and faeries, angels and werewolves, real teens facing real problems, oppressive governments, or in the words of Joel Stein, "games you play when hungry." But breaking YA down into those categories often allows the outside world to squeeze an entire field into a stereotype. Cheerleader, jock, goth, loser, bad seed are labels used to place people into nice categories so no one really has to take the time to break down an individual. Same with YA lit. Call something a dystopia and it's just like The Hunger Games. If it's paranormal, it goes in the Twilight category. The same way people don't completely fit into any one category (with few exceptions of course) neither do books.

Categorizations are nice for readers to be able to determine at a glance whether a book is right for him/her. The problem is, these labels are swallowing the field and presenting a shallow face to those who aren't readers. Or those who are pretentious readers of adult literature only. I want to circle back to Joel Stein's assertion that adults should read only books written for adults, where he says that seeing a grown man reading The Hunger Games, is just embarrassing. Here's my issue with that statement: what exactly is he defining as a book written for adults? The literary canon is littered with books that, had they been published within the last decade or so, they would likely have been labeled YA.

Pride and Prejudice, for example. Elizabeth Bennet and her younger sisters on the quest for the perfect man, complete with handsome soldiers and lots of dancing. Sounds like YA to me.
Even a good portion of Wuthering Heights depicts teen angst. A number of gothic novels have young heroines and supernatural elements. My Antonia is narrated by a teenage boy. Or look at Daisy Miller or Holden Caulfield. Or Lord of the Rings for crying out loud. How about Charles Dickens? Oliver Twist was not an adult, nor was Esther from Bleak House. Let's not forget that Charles Dickens published his books serially, so the fact that YA lit often gains its readers by presenting stories in series should not be completely snubbed. The recognition of YA is relatively new, but really it's not a new concept.

Matt de la Peña wrote an article contributing to this discussion and he states, "I believe many of tomorrow's canon can be found in today's young adult section." I agree with this whole-heartedly, especially considering what has made it into the canon in the past. But also because YA is like any other field of literature - it has its publications that are probably better forgotten by contemporary collective conscious, there are publications that are wonderful as entertainment, and there are those that contribute to a conversation.  

There are books I read in the YA field where I stop and think that a century from now this will be held as an example of what was going on in our world here in the beginning of the 21st century. Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff is one I think will withstand the test of time - others, I feel, have that potential as well include the incredible Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, or anything that John Green has written or will ever write.


These books are already showing up in high school curriculum. Like it or not, sooner or later the "adults" in this world will be the people who grew up reading YA lit. But what is even more awesome, should you choose to embrace it, is that we have this incredible opportunity to read these books when they're first surfacing. I can only imagine how incredible it will be to tell my grand kids that I read Harry Potter when the first book came out in the late 90's. Or that I can still remember the first time I read John Green. Or that The Giver was one of my favorite childhood books. I can imagine passing my collection of books down and having that mean something.
YA is the future of literature and for personal and collective reasons, I sincerely hope that the outside world - whether we're talking about pop culture, business, or academics - will come to see it as a legitimate field.

I'd love to know what you think about YA and the future of literature. You can also read more about the New York Times debate here.

5 comments:

  1. Wonderful post! I'm still a ''Young Adult'' but I don't see myself ever giving up on reading YA. Life is so short, why shouldn't we read what we enjoy?

    It's funny, when I was a young teen all I wanted to read was ''adult'' books but now that I'm getting older, most of the books I read are YA. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Personally, I find it's like nailing down jello to even determine what exactly YA is other than the obvious (written toward a age level audience) because even then- I've read YA that read like adult and vice versa. Hey, a good story is a good story as far as I'm concerned.

    Thanks for the post!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow, this post is truly impressive! I totally agree, but I'd never be able to say it like that!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Awesome post Hannah! I've noticed sometimes when I tell people what book I'm reading, they make some comment like "...and how old are you?" as if YA isn't legit, and I think that's ridiculous. God forbid I want to enjoy what I'm reading. Thanks again for this post :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. I think this is a well-inspired post! I've been meaning to comment on it since it popped up in my inbox but alas, life got in the way!
    But, I totally agree with you. YA literature is "degraded" due to the few books that become big-hits despite not being great works of "art".
    These books put a bad name on all YA lit out there. Twilight is, and probably always will be, a good example of this.

    Often, when telling people I'm reading a YA book, or run a majorly YA blog, I hear, "Isn't that just like.. highschool girl meets boy, and falls in love with the hottest guy ever?". It ALWAYS makes me want to headdesk when I hear it. Just because a FEW books are like that, doesn't mean that they all are!

    I have only recently come back to reading after taking a long hiatus due to my studies, and I am so glad to be back in the game now. YA lit is really only getting started and I totally believe that it is about to take the world by storm. Soon people will realise the power behind the topics and words within many YA lit books and will stand up straight and fall in line with the rest of us avid YA readers. I am sure of it! ;)

    Great post, I love it!
    Faye :)

    ReplyDelete