In all likelihood, on “the day” I will not be reading Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. I will be in car for double-digit hours, returning from vacation. Being as I get carsick when I read, and I am the copilot, I will have to avoid Twitter and anything else that may spoil my reading pleasure the next day.
As explained in The New York Times in The Kids’ Books Are All Right by Pamela Paul, I am not the only adult who is looking forward to Mockingjay. Amanda Foreman is quoted: “But good Y.A. is like good television. There’s a freshness there; it’s engaging. Y.A. authors aren’t writing about middle-aged anomie or disappointed people.” Foreman captures, in a nutshell, why I read YA. I know life sucks and is full of disappointments and compromises, I don’t need that in my books, and I don’t need to be lectured about it in books, thankyouverymuch. But I also known life can be wonderful, with opportunity, luck, chances, and happiness, and YA gives that to me. (It’s also why I read genres such as romance and chick lit. I read mystery because I like to solve problems. And that’s enough self-examination.)
What ages are YA books for? It’s always interesting to see people arguing about this when it turns out they have different definitions. For example, some people dismiss a book as not being YA because YA is for ages 11 to 14 and the book isn’t for eleven year olds. The flip also happens, with people thinking YA means only for the fifteen are older crowd. Personally, I’m a YALSA member so go with their age group, ages 12 to 18, which is why I’ll blog about middle school and high school titles.
The Kids’ Books Are All Right confirms what many of us suspect: YA readership now includes the over-18s and not just in a “but you can’t count librarians and teachers” way. Actual figures are provided. Please click through to read the entire article, but, for example, “47 percent of 18- to 24-year-old women and 24 percent of same-aged men say most of the books they buy are classified as young adult.” In my age group? One out of five people buy YA for themselves.
All in all, I really enjoyed the article because it treats young adult books, and the adults who read them, with respect.
In reading other people’s reactions to this essay, I found a bit of a mixed bag. Some people liked it, but others, not so much. Over at Fomagrams in some of my best friends are YA authors, David Elzey wrote: “I have found myself upset with the… what is this feeling? Is it condescension? Arrogance? What is that feeling you get when you hear someone talking about something as if they’d discovered it before anyone else, and then relays that discovery in a way that makes you embarrassed for them?”
What did I miss? Because usually I am the first person to jump on a “let’s complain about this YA article bandwagon.” I understand where Elzey is coming from; I don’t like “oh my goodness, I discovered YA lit” articles or blog posts. Like him, I think “some of us have been doing this for years.” I am loud in my dislike of such attitudes.
But, here’s the thing. I didn’t percieve this in this article. Let me explain why I may have a different reaction from Elzey and others who didn’t like the article. I don’t come to YA reading as “someone who has been doing this for generations.” Oh, now I’m a youth services librarian; now I’m all involved with YALSA and NJLA and other organizations and read and blog. But, for ten years I was outside the book-world in the law world. Many of my friends and family are outside the book-world. The book-world, especially that in the YA area — publishers, authors, librarians, readers — we know that YA is read by grown ups. Those outside that world? Not so much. This article, in a mainstream publication, very much tells the YA adult reader that they are not alone. Now, some readers say “I’ve always been proud to read YA!” Good for you! I’m that way — now. While I lurked in young adult bookstores in my business suit? When I brought reading on business trips? “Reading YA” was not trendy, it was not something I shouted about doing from the tower tops, and I would have found this thrilling to read. It’s great some of you have either never felt that disapproval, it’s great that you don’t care about endless defending your reader choices. This article? It’s not for you, then. It’s for the person who before this article felt alone and now does not. They do exist. I was one.
Gayle Forman wrote about this in a blog post, let us into the sandbox, in a “the New York Times is telling us ‘water is wet’” way. Forman goes on to take the New York Times to task for not having more coverage of YA. To which all I can say is WORD. One of the reasons I think that people blog about young adult and children’s books, and why this area of the book blogosphere is so strong, is because mainstream media like the Times failed to deliver. I hope they listen to Forman and stop the token coverage of YA. Click through to her article to see the detailed areas where the paper fails YA books and readers.
One more thing — I say that even people in the book world such as librarians know that adults read YA. Actually, I’m not sure. One reason I started blogging (and continued to do so) is that no, at a library level, I didn’t have people to talk to about YA. Some YA readers in libraries stop reading YA when they no longer are YA librarians. Librarians at smaller libraries may think they are alone in what they read. From a patron perspective, many librarians may not realize the age of YA readership. Every now and then, I hear librarians (on listservs and the like) say they won’t buy such and such a YA book because the readers will be adults and the YA librarian doesn’t want to spend YA funds on an adult book. Meanwhile, adult fiction won’t buy it because it’s YA. So the book does not get bought. Most YA budgets are much, much less than adult fiction budgets so YA librarians do have to be very careful what they buy. The statistics in this article, from the respected New York Times, may mean that a YA budget gets increased or that adult fiction spends money on YA. Personally, I think that some books should be shelved in two sections: adult and YA. Not all libraries or librarians share that philosophy; maybe this article will prove to them that such purchasing and shelving is necessary.
So, did you like the article? Did you think it was condescending? Or did you say “finally, I’m not alone?” If you read YA because you like it (as opposed to reading it for work), why? When you recommend a YA book to another adult, do you tell them up front it’s YA?