I think I am the only person not deeply offended by Ruth Graham’s Slate editorial, “Against YA” which calls for adults who are avid readers of YA fiction to be embarrassed of their junior reading habits.
With blockbuster novels like The Hunger Games and of course the sure to jerk every bit of moisture from your body as tears, The Fault In Our Stars. It seems everyone is reading one of the many currently popular novels or sets, even self-identified nonreaders.
According to Graham’s scathing piece, adults should be ashamed for focusing all of their reading energies on these novels. Curiously, everyone seemed to take this view as Graham being needlessly critical of the quality of the works themselves. As if the piece was saying that these beloved books are trite pieces of trash literature.
Which, to be fair, some of them are. To pretend that, say Twilight, for example, is some sort literary masterpiece is to do a disservice to literature. It was entertaining, for some, it spoke volumes to a certain set of readers but it wasn’t a breathtaking piece of literature.
Or The Pigman.
What was that last one? The YA of yesteryear. The forgotten racy books for young adults that helped define an era. Think, I know What You Did Last Summer or any of R.L. Stine’s Fear Street novels. Christopher Pike also had a run in with teen horror.
They were all well-loved, much talked about, and lovingly swapped between friends over lunch breaks. They were important for a time for a group of people who now, removed from that time remembers them fondly.
That’s where Graham’s piece falters at for most. This understanding that there’s nothing really wrong with reading and enjoying the work, but aren’t we all a little old for it? In much the same way that there’s no shame in being a fan of Disney films, there’s this very tangible reality although you may find enjoyment in them, adults are not the audience they had in mind.
A better analogy: You can order a happy meal but it’s unlikely it will keep you full for long.
Which is what, more than anything, Graham’s piece was speaking on. Yes, it used inflammatory language, meant to get clicks and a rise out of readers so they would share the offending piece. And then be kept alive through response pieces (much like this one!) and in that, it has done its job.
But as a thought piece, it failed as most people were stuck on outrage.
Young Adult literature is a happy meal. It’s got all of the same parts of Adult novels (for the most part) but in smaller portions and unlike Adult meals, you get a toy at the end.
YA works may dabble in the adult world but they are about speaking to and dealing with issues and emotions of a world that is not adult. And yes, we, as adults, feel the same emotions, we understand these reactions and desires, but we are viewing them from a point of nostalgia.
Katniss Everdeen’s revolution and inner monologues would have been worlds different if she had been 30 with a baby by Gail. The sympathy that we feel for Bella’s relationship with Edward would likely have read differently if she had been a 25 year old post graduate.
Their adventures are packaged neatly. Not the messy novels you get into when you get out of the worlds of happy endings. Novels whose stories end only because the writer runs out of words. They end in sadness, death, illness. Sometimes they’re happy though and that’s nice.
The embarrassment that Graham calls for isn’t, in my opinion, the kind that makes you turn red at parties. It’s the same sort of embarrassment that soccer moms used to have when they tittered over the latest saucy romance (pre 50 Shades which has made erotica mainstream. A move I found both joyful and tragic in equal measures).
They used to call them “guilty pleasures” like eating chocolate cake in bed while you stream True Blood and fantasize about Eric Northman. There’s nothing wrong with it but it’s also not something that you just share with everyone.
There is this climate of “as long as people are reading” that permeates the reading culture. As if the simple act makes up for the fact that no one is reading the really good books. The ones that help make sense of the adult world. Not the ones that help not quite adults enter into it.
Just like reading a steamy romance novel can give your mind a break from reality, so does the YA world. But it’s not the only fruit. There are books that just as entertaining in other parts of the books store and everyone should explore those too.
If reading is your thing. It might not be. But if you think it is, do yourself a favor and try some new flavors.