Tuesday, February 23, 2010

YA and YA Reviews

This is Mazy. She has nothing to do with this post, but she's the only one here right now, so I thought I'd honor her. She likes to watch me type because she believes that if I type enough, my computer will eventually produce a Snausage.

This is the part about YA -

When I first realized that Shape of Water was no longer a short story and was becoming a novel, I thought, "Ok, this is sort of an initiation story." At least that's what we used to call books like Catcher in the Rye. A friend of mine, a little older and a reading teacher, called them "Adolescent Literature" and said they always viewed those stories as one cut above watching tv. In other words, books, but not quite literature.

Yesterday, someone asked me what I wrote and I said, "Mostly young adult." Person nodded. "You mean like the Hardy Boys?"

I had to think a minute. This guy was maybe 35. Weren't the Hardy Boys way back?


YA is its own world now, with certain star writers and publishing houses and agents specializing in it. Sometimes I forget that most of the people around me think that writing YA is akin to playing Dungeons and Dragons, kind of a hobby that my family tolerates as long as I regularly make dinner and occasionally contribute to the light bill.

I'm pretty much used to that. I'm really used to the question, "Did you ever think of writing an actual novel?" (meaning for adults) and I even get that people who ask it don't realize how insulting that question is.

But here's what I'm wondering about - YA reviews. I just read one a woman wrote about a YA novel she finished (not one of mine - and I try never to mention titles). She said the teen voice seemed too mature for her age. I met this reviewer once, and I know she is about my age, has no kids and doesn't work with kids. Hmmm...the protagonist was 16 and I also read that book and teen seemed spot on as far as maturity goes - or at least as far as girl maturity goes. It was a good book. She didn't like it because of the maturity issue.

So maybe the actual readers of YA should write reviews then. There are lots of 14 and 15 year old reviewers. They have shiny, pimped out blogs and lots of stars and exclamation points to prove their enthusiasm. They tend to like the same book over and over (vampires or angsty books) and not like other types (say historical fiction or crime) and they get all their friends to agree with them. I think it's great that 15 year olds have blogs and are reading books, but I'm not sure if 15 is a vast enough age to form valid literary opinions on books that don't speak directly to their lives. And that's understandable.

So it's back to adult reviewers, and that's the problem: do adult reviewers respond to the writing or to the way teens are portrayed? I've never read a lot of reviews, but I have lately mostly because I've been asked to review books. I realized that I respond mostly to writing, and not the story as much, so I'm not going to review books. I think editors would probably be the best reviewers since they respond to story and writing; even better, YA editors should review YA books, MG editors, MG books, etc.

And here's my final YA question. If you don't have kids, or work with kids, or write YA, why do folks read and review it? It reminds me of the middle aged couples who walked around Disney World grumbling about the kids, how they were slow climbing onto the train seats or started crying when the lights went out on a ride. Well, Disney World really isn't for the childless middle-aged couple. There are lots of places for them, but riding the teacups isn't one of them.

I feel more and more like that about YA.

Last night, a high school student emailed me and said she read in a review, "...how you spent your childhood next to a graveyard and wrote a novel about your memories there..." I don't know who wrote that particular review, but it's not true. I lived near a graveyard in my adult life, when the kids were small. I guess the Internet has done away with fact checking.

Then again, maybe I've just had too much coffee. I don't really go by reviews. I read blurbs, and if I like the sound of it, I buy it or borrow it. I tend to go by covers, too, shallow as that is. And sometimes, weirdly enough, if I read a terrible review, I want to read it just to see if it's all that bad. But I still don't know who should review YA - it just seems everyone has an opinion on the genre.


Bish Denham said...

I hear you Anne. I have to remember that review is just another word for opinion and each of us has a least one. (I sometimes go by the cover too, so you're not alone.)

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

I've scanned reviews of many books and movies, but never take them seriously. I like to make my own decisions. And even when I'm excited about a book I've read and want to share it with others, I respect that they need to check it out first, decide if they want to read it and come to their own conclusions/reviews.

Anne Spollen said...

I just think YA is tough to review - I thought it would be easier.

And there are some really good books out there, even Catcher in the Rye, that get these strange reviews, strange takes on what Salinger meant.

I guess what I'm thinking is the Internet gives a lot of exposure to books, so some of that exposure is bound to be not expert - to put it mildly.

Marcia said...

I guess I think of a review as something that gives me an idea of whether the book might be my thing or not. I like reviews that say a bit about both craft and personal taste, and I might use a review that talks about craft as a guide to reading that particular book "like a writer." I do think "consider the source" is important. A teen into high-concept plots, an adult who basically looks down on children's or YA, and a writer or librarian will give very different reviews. As for covers, and as one who's had a mixture of love and ... well, not-love, for her own book covers,I agree that they affect me a lot.

Bish Denham said...

Anne, I've given you an AWARD! Come on over and check it out.

Mary Witzl said...

I've pretty much stopped telling clueless people that I'm trying to publish MG and YA stories and books. They either smile and talk about Harry Potter and the millions I must be eager to make or they talk about Nancy Drew or Sweet Valley Twins. And there is that cringe-worthy chance someone might mention writing 'real' books too.

As for YA reviews, I have read books with kid protagonists who sound too mature, but I know what my girls sound like, and it's nothing like the voice I've found in some YA novels -- every kid voice is different. It's a shame that my girls WON'T write blogs; they'd be great YA reviewers. They're my sharpest critics and very little gets past them.

I go wild when people whine about kids at places like Disneyland. Sheesh, if they don't like the heat, they can stay out of the kitchen.

Anne Spollen said...

That's right, you're back, Marcia!
I am too swayed by book covers for someone who is supposedly able to tell what's decent writing and what's not - it may be similar to buying a picture. And yes, "consider the source" is very important. There is a certain contempt for young people's literature underlying some of the reviews.

Thanks for the award, Bish. I'll do that next blog.

Nancy Drew - yes, Mary, I am asked if that's what I write all the time. Along with the Harry Potter/million dollars comment. When people launch into those remarks, I sometimes feel like screaming/crying/going wild.

And voice - they are all diff, but some are just wrong. Or they sound like teens from when I was a teen which is also really wrong. I just wish writing for kids was not looked upon as "easier" - which I think it is. I actually think it's easier to write for adults. So there.

Jemi Fraser said...

I agree. I find it odd that people who have no connections to teens write and read YA. It's hard to really know kids unless you connect with them on a regular basis.

By the way - I have an award for you over at my blog :)

Lisa Amowitz said...

Hey, Anne! This is your lucky week—I gave you an award on my blog, too!

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, may all your wishes come true!