Jul 15, 2014
Adults Can Read Whatever The Hell They Want
Well, well, well. And what do we have here? Just a clickbait article from my (usually lovely) Slate called “Against YA.” And the subhed is fun: “Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.”
It’s on, motherfuckers.
Full and proud disclosure: I write YA novels. I wrote a teen lesbian Gatsby reboot called “Great” that came out in April. I just finished another one, “Believers” (inspired by “Lord of the Flies” with teen girls from an evangelical Christian show choir). That comes out next year. I also wrote a memoir that is most decidedly an adult affair, but that’s another story (literally).
More importantly, I read YA. I love YA. I love “juvenile fiction” books by Tahereh Mafi, Lauren Oliver, Ransom Riggs, and John Green. I love “children’s” books by Neil Gaiman.
These authors are not just brilliant children’s authors; they are brilliant authors, period.
And as for their grown-up readers?
Well, I’d say they’re pretty damned smart, too.
They know good stories when they see ’em. They appreciate the thrill of a tale well-told. And unlike the author of the Slate piece, they recognize that some of the deepest and most illuminating truths can best be hidden, like treasures, within the angsty thicket of teen drama.
“Out of the mouths of babes,” and all that.
I don’t put myself in the same class as the aforementioned best-selling authors. I’m a newbie at this. I don’t know what it’s like to sell a kajillion copies of a novel the first day it’s out, or to win industry awards for excellence, or to have a million fans.
But I can tell you what my readers are like — the ones who adore my shit and the ones who fucking hate it — and they’re smart. They’re really, really, really smart. And God, are they passionate. In general, their criticism is intelligent; their opinions (while sometimes painful to hear) well-supported by evidence; their reviews (even the biting ones) well-written. Most of them are over the age of 18.
Adult readers of YA fiction are not dummies. They are not missing out on whatever fancypants high literary art one discusses over million-dollar local free-range grass-finished organic bourbon and artisanal crackers made by hippie elves in a barn in Tibet. Adult readers of YA fiction know that the dreams of teenagers are perhaps even more vivid and alive than the dreams of adults; that a young character can and will do things a grown-up character cannot; and that the pleasure of a good story, any good story, is reason enough for its existence.
YA fiction sells because YA fiction is fascinating. It’s alluring; it’s alive; when it works, it’s triumphant. When it fails, it sucks, but that’s true of any genre. YA fiction has as much inherent worth as anything in the adult literary fiction section.
The idea that one should be ashamed or embarrassed to read YA fiction because it is somehow a betrayal of one’s obligation to Real Literature? That’s intellectual posturing. That’s snobbish. That’s ill-informed.
That’s fucking bullshit.
Look, I don’t have an MFA. I’m not fancy. I just write stories. And I just read stories. Sometimes the marketing people at book publishing companies have labeled these stories as children’s tales. That’s cool. Whatever works for them, I guess. They’re in enough trouble as it is and I’m not about to split hairs over where my new favorite book is shelved.
In the end, stories are for everyone with the ability and desire to access them. And I’ll argue that point until I’m out of breath (or coffee).
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write some more adolescent garbage literature for anyone who wants to read it. And after that, I might read something in the YA section. You know why?
Because it’s fun. And it’s great. And it means something — maybe everything, sometimes, for a moment, when it’s done right.