Over this past summer an article for Slate.com made huge waves among readers, especially readers of what we call “young adult” or teen fiction. Ruth Graham in her article Against YA makes a host of arguments for why adults should be “embarrassed” to read teen fiction and argues that teen books are intellectually and emotionally inferior to adult literature.
There have been several excellent responses to Ruth’s article, and I’m not going to rehash those arguments there. I do however want to bring up another point that was mostly forgotten in all the hand-wringing and debating.
Ms. Graham’s viewpoint commits the cardinal sin of any writer: over-generalizing and misrepresenting other authors’ work. If you enjoy reading (and hopefully you do) tell me if this sounds familiar: Have you ever had someone bash one of your favorite authors when they have only read 1% of that author’s total work? Have you ever had a friend say “Oh, that author’s terrible” but then he or she has only tried reading 1 of that author’s numerous stories?
That’s the level of Ms. Graham’s ineptitude. Playing by her rules, as a writer I could make the opposite argument and claim that adult literature was “out of touch,” or just plain “dull and unconnected to real human experience.” But then I would be stooping to her level and overgeneralizing about an entire, rich genre of work with readers who enthusiastically benefit from it.
That’s what has me completely baffled about the anti-YA crowd. They’re not seeing the writing on the wall. And as a booklover and librarian let me tell you – they’re losing the battle, and in a big way. If the proof is in the pudding, here’s some pudding:
According to research by Bowker, a trusted player in the publishing industry, over half of adults profess to read and actively pursue teen books to satisfy their reading cravings. Recently many library systems have looked at the hundreds of thousands of books they circulate and noticed another interesting trend: nearly 75% of library teen books circulating are checked out BY ADULTS. Even allowing for the fact that some of those adults may be checking out books for their teen son or daughter, that’s a massive percentage.
I wonder if the Ms. Grahams of the world truly believe that teen fiction is inferior to adult literature. More likely, my guess is that in the shifting avalanche of interest to stories which are more emotional, accessible and immediate to people (teen fiction), the Ms. Grahams feel left behind; the type of written word they preferred is on the descent and under threat.
The true answer to Ms. Graham’s dilemma has two parts to it:
1) Learn to embrace change rather than fight it, and
2) Relearn the old saying ‘There’s a book for every reader.’
Who knows, in our ever-more complicated adult lives filled with technology and a lack of social interaction, perhaps adult readers are gravitating to stories which help them reconnect with their emotionally aware, less-burdened younger selves – and with other human beings.
If that’s the case then teen fiction, YA fiction, or whatever you want to call it, is something to be embraced – not feared.