Friday, January 9, 2009
Being Realistic About YA
There is a large group of people, and I would venture to say that most of them are either YA authors or editors, who keep saying that YA is real literature. I agree with them, of course, and I agree with them mightily.
But last night I went to a different "TEEN ZONE" at a new library, and I found books with titles like "Boyaholic" and "Confessions of A Teenage Stud" and "Boys Who Bite." Now, if I pretend for a minute I am not a YA author, that I don't really like a lot of the folks involved in YA publishing and say those titles to myself, I have to admit it sounds a lot like advanced comic book writing. That might make you mad, but that's what I admitted to myself last night.
One of my favorite papers to teach is the argument paper. The goal is to convince your reader of your point. Since most of the kids I teach are young adults, they have a tough time with the middle section where counter arguments are proposed. I had one girl, she was about 20, who could not write on the topic of girls not being permitted to play football because she could not think of a counter argument. When I suggested some, she got upset and asked for an alternate assignment. I tried explaining that to defend an opinion, you have to state and disprove common counter arguments.
I think that's pretty much how it is in life, too. There's a lot of cheesy writing in YA, and there's a lot of brilliant writing. But you have to at least comprehend why people might go to the YA shelf anywhere, read those titles, and move on.
In addition to the acne/angst novel, there is the vampire issue. I am not a fan of vampires, though I must admit at the age of twelve or thirteen I alternately wanted to marry either Bram Stoker or Dracula. That was kind of the pinnacle of vampire love for me, and I don't think anyone has come close to his level of writing since. I find vampires especially cheesy, and they abound in the YA genre. I'm not up on the differences between werewolves and vampires, they sort of seem like cousins, but I do remember reading really, really bad novels involving werewolves when I was in middle school. I read them because my friends did, and the writing was, unbelievably,more dreadful than the cover art. (They were the kind of books you hid inside your "Discovery Through Science" textbook during study hall)
But I accept the books that center on acne angst and blood sucking spirits; I just don't think they can be successfully defended. I have trouble accepting bad literature in general, but it exists, probably, because kids like it. It's sort of like Chucky Cheese's for the younger set -- it's a stage you can't wait to pass.
So when people say sensitive things to me like, "Have you thought of writing a real novel? You know, like for adults?" I don't get all huffy. I understand what they see on the shelves and the assumptions they make. It would be hard not to understand that.
On the other hand, I have never been aware of so many people who want to write YA, or who are reading and commenting on YA, and I think that's the key: the genre is improving. Some of the YA stuff I've read recently has been spectacular in every regard, and the title and cover art have been PBS level rather than Fox News.
Watching the genre get better is a lot like raising a teen: you have to hope for the best while you wait for a lot of stuff to fade away.