The Good News: The New York Times Magazine has an article about YA literature!
It’s called Teenage Wastelands by Charles McGrath and is in “The Way We Live Now” section. There is some good stuff. With the recent release of the I Am Number Four film, another reminder of this being a movie and book series factory-created for teen dollars is a good thing. (For more on the factory element, see my posts here and here.)
The Bad News: Readers of genre fiction, including YA fiction, have, I think, one thing they like to see in articles about the genre they embrace. No, it’s not for everyone to love it. Rather, it’s for the genre to be written about with respect. Because so often the genre is disrespected, sometimes the reader is a bit over-sensitive to slights, or to someone who doesn’t seem to “know” the genre. Criticism is good –but criticism grounded in respect.
To continue the good, McGrath mentions some better, recent YA books so that the person reading has a good starting place of what to read beyond Frey (Matched by Ally Condie, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins). Unfortunately, the latter part of the article seems to reflect an overall view of YA as being lesser-than: “What distinguishes this kind of dystopian fiction from its adult counterpart — beyond its being less dire and apocalyptic — is a certain element of earnestness, even preachiness, and the moral is pretty transparent: be yourself. That’s because most young-adult novels are not written by young adults. They’re grown-up guesses or projections about what we suspect or hope might be on the minds of teenagers, or they’re cynical attempts to plant a profitable notion there. Frey didn’t have to do much more than think “vampires = aliens” before calling in someone to write it up for him.” McGrath earlier asserts that “In the realm of Y.A. fiction, the series is the grail; the single-volume one-off is a lost franchise.”
Goodness knows, I think some trilogies would be better served being edited down to one book. But you know where else “series is the grail”? Mysteries. Or, as I look at my next to-be-read book by Nora Roberts, romance. In other words, the desire to have a series is not limited to the young adult book world. For that matter, cynical attempts at profit isn’t limited to young adult books. And isn’t a writer who writes fiction always projecting, or guessing, or (insert word you prefer her) about their characters? I mean, most mysteries are not written by serial killers or FBI agents. Don’t those writers guess or project what they suspect or hope (or again insert word you prefer) into the minds of serial killers and FBI agents?
One last point. An article such as this lives or dies on the examples used, and the books compared. McGrath’s example of adult dystopia? Literary writers like Margaret Atwood and Cormac McCarthy. Yet, does he mention the recent literary young adult dystopia Ship Breaker? No. It won the Printz Award winner and National Book Finalist, is clearly a dystopia, yet does not meet the McGrath-given label of young adult dystopia as one where ”civilization feels an awful lot like high school and everyone is under pressure to conform“.
Yes, I know it’s unfair for me to be snarky and to deconstruct this sentence by sentence. Young adult literature is given such little coverage that when the coverage is given, one hopes for something more. There is good news, though. Young adult book blogs and websites, especially those that write critically and deeply about young adult books, will continue to grow and gather readers because they are providing something that is not served elsewhere.