Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Why YA: Or, links to people who say so better than I can

This article from the New York Times on adults who read YA lit has, predictably enough, been making the rounds; and I am, predictably enough, late to the party (though slightly less late than usual). I enjoyed it and was annoyed by it for many of the same reasons Gayle Forman was, and she said it better than I could, so I'll just tell you to read what she has to say.

It drives me nuts that when people talk about reading YA fiction it is often ever-so-subtly juxtaposed as being different from, you know, "real" fiction. That adults read. (Which is somewhat analogous to the distinction that's set up when people talk about "women's fiction." As if it's somehow. . . other.) And even in the NYT article there is a bit of justifying of reading habits. It's okay to read YA because they're discussing it and analyzing it. What if they were just, you know, enjoying it? I enjoy discussing books as much as the next girl, and I love being able to share such a solitary pursuit with my friends by gushing about the great books we're reading. But that is not, at the core, why I read. I read because I love stories. And I don't have to analyze the book in order to justify the time spent reading it.

I regularly get asked why I prefer YA fiction (sometimes with a tone that suggests, "Defend yourself!", though not always). And there are lots of reasons (and as much as I don't like it when YA is distinguished from "real" fiction, I do think it is a distinct genre--one with many sub-genres, but this thought it getting too big for a parenthetical), many of them having to do with why I love my job. Basically, I like reading YA for the same reasons I like working with teenagers: there is the sense of possibility. There is someone who is at or near the beginning of something. Everything is big and new and incomprehensible. There is more of an excuse for acting like a complete jerk, as you're still too young to know any better. There is the potential for change. There is none of the navel-gazing mundanity of a mid-life crisis. Reading YA fiction helps me remember what it's like to be a teenager, which helps me understand my students--and the incomprehensible ways they behave--better.

Again, there is someone who says it much better than I do--this time it's Sarah Rees Brennan, over at The Book Smugglers (a post which I discovered via Bookshelves of Doom).

She sums it up really well in this section:

YA is about your first time. And not just that first time, though that’s often on the table as well.

It’s about the first time you ever get betrayed by a friend. The first time you fell in love. The first time you realised, on a bone-deep, gut-deep level, that the world was unfair, that something terrible and irreversible could happen to you, that nobody was coming to save you. And the first time is a really intense time – it’s shocking, it cuts deep. The world never comes as such a surprise again.

. . . but you should read the entire post, if only so those of you who know me in real life will understand why "assbucket" is being added to my lexicon.