Friday, July 3, 2015

YA books aren't REAL books and other nonsense

Hey guys,
I can't believe it's been February since I've blogged. But that's the way life is, you know? Things happen. Priorities shift.

I've had a lot of things I've been meaning to blog about; some writing related, some not. I think I'm just trying to figure out what exactly should be said and how to say it, because it's delicate stuff, yo.

Anyway, this week in twitterville, there has been a little bit of a kerfuffle going on having to do with YA writers, YA readers, and all things YA. So I wanted to address this and give my perspective to add to the fray. Because I generally like all things fray.

For a long while, there has been this invisible line in the literary stratosphere dividing Who Reads YA and Who Does Not. This line has been made clear by those on both sides and both are very vocal about it. I can't speak for everyone, obviously, but I can say why I read and write YA. So, have a seat. Can I get you some tea? Coffee? Ok. Good.

First and most obvious, I read  (and write) YA because that's what my students read. I want to be able to rec good books and that is pretty simple. But more than that, I read YA because growing up was rough. I constantly felt awkward and alone, different from all my peers for many reasons. I had a lot of fights with my mom, some that sent me into a depressive tail spin. And more often than not, I found myself saying "I'll never forget what it's like to be young. I won't be like my parents."

Well, years have passed and I'm probably more like my parents than I'd intended. BUT I've always retained my thoughts...I remember what it felt like to be a teen. I remember those nights, ruminating over a guy that I just knew I would be with someday. (spoiler alert: I wasn't) Someday he'd see me, beyond the awkward, beyond my insecurity. He'd see past all that and fall for me anyway.(He didn't) I remember having this world view that if only the government and adults in this world would listen, see it my way, that most of the problems would be solved. I remember feeling insignificant to the world. And to those around me. I remember feeling small and bottled up and wondering who I am and how I fit in to this world.

And when I open a YA book and read, that girl is ME. I KNOW her because I WAS her. So yeah, maybe are some of the things in a YA book cliche? Might they sometimes be overdone? Oh yeah. I find myself thinking there needs to be originality. However, the EMOTIONS in the book, the feelings are the same. And they should be. Because (if you adults care to remember) THAT is what being a teen is. I wished all the time that I was somehow destined for something better. That I was special.

Now, as an adult, I realize those are foolish fantasies and that life isn't that simple. That there are complexities to life you just can't understand at 16. And life experience gives you wisdom, but it also makes you jaded and cynical. Adults rarely look at life with that expanse of hope that teens do. The knowing that there is so much adventure ahead and an excitement to find out where it all leads, I think a lot of adults lose that. Call it my Peter Pan syndrome or whatever, I refuse to be that adult who can't remember what it was like to be a kid. That's why I read YA. To remember. To reconnect to that inner girl. She screams to not be forgotten. In some ways, she's the best part of me. In some ways, she's the worst.

I read YA because my teen years, though they are far behind me, are some of the best memories I have. Ditching school to go to the beach, the late night bonfires down at The Strand, going to parties only to get busted by the cops, late night Del Taco runs, Denny's at midnight (I'll have the garden salad with ranch on the side, a coffee, and a side of fries, please.) I'll never forget that day Jason Arnold stuck up for me with his friends, or when he took me to get spare gas and helped me fill up my empty tank (not a euphemism, jeez people), or when I found out he was leaving to surf in Hawaii and that hug he gave me that I swear I counted the seconds while I breathed in his cologne. I remember what he was wearing (white wool sweater with jeans) and the feel of his body warmth. Or when I found out my dear friend Chad wanted to ask me to the prom but was afraid to because we were just friends but he wanted something more and I'd never even realized it. And that finding that out, I began to have feelings for him, but it was too late. He'd moved on. (cue tears) Those memories are as vivid now as they were back then. And if they sound familiar at all, it's because you've probably seen those in a book somewhere. THAT'S why I read YA. It takes me back to those times when my life seemed like it could've really been a book.

My life is a lot more boring now. Not a lot of opportunities are on my horizon. My life isn't how I wanted it to be, how I pictured. So now, even more than before, I long to be taken back to the times when life had endless possibility.

And to people who say YA books aren't REAL books, you don't get it. You never will. Because that kid in you is long gone and you've chosen to forget they were ever there. I feel sorry for you. It's like saying science fiction isn't a real book because it's about aliens and space. Or fantasy isn't a real book because it's about magic. Or historical fiction isn't a real book because it didn't really happen that way or those people weren't real. Or romance isn't real because it has no real conflict and it's all love and kisses. Who are you to say what is real and what is not? Are you so pretentious and pompous that you have to scoff at books just because you don't read them? Readers of YA aren't dumb. We're not reading YA because we can't "handle" a "real book." We're reading YA because we've chosen to not forget who were were when we didn't quite know much else.

The truth is reading Girl On the Train doesn't make me more intelligent. If YA is hopelessly optimistic and trite, then adult fiction is hopelessly depressing and ominous. If YA is childish, then adult fiction is uptight and morose. And reading Junot Diaz, Shakespeare, Dickens, Bradbury (whom I love) or Stephen King doesn't make me a better person--though I've read and enjoyed them all. It makes me sad and think the world is doomed. And maybe that is inherently the issue. Adult fiction (with the exception of romance and chick lit which these same readers/writers love to toss into the pit with YA) resolves leaving the reader feel a little like "at least my life doesn't suck that bad" where YA leaves the reader with "maybe there's hope, or a reason for all this." Maybe "adulting" has more to seeing the doom and gloom (perhaps some would say reality as it is rather than how we wish it to be) in things whereas being a teen is about eternal optimism, that everything will be OK. Maybe reading YA leaves a reader thinking "I wish things were like this" or "Why can't life be this simple?" Maybe readers of YA tend to be the sort to dream bigger, want more, and to hold on to that part of their lives that seems so fleeting now. YA readers and writers, in short, believe anything can happen. And honestly, the beauty and folly of life is...anything can.

I don't begrudge anyone who wants to read what they want to read. But to point fingers or have this attitude like a YA book isn't a real book, that it doesn't challenge convention, enrich minds of all ages, that the prose or word choice isn't sophisticated, or that it in any way threatens the livelihood of "grown up" books, is contemptuous at best. I LOVE the growth of this market. YA authors are taking risks, challenging traditional storytelling methods, growing and changing the whole publishing industry one word at a time. Storytelling in YA books have been more unconventional than I've ever seen in other genres. I love the trend and hope it continues.

I challenge those who have never really read a YA book, the ones who poke fun at "YA writers" to actually sit down, and read a few. It won't kill you. I promise your brain cells won't wither and waste away. You may even *gasp* find that it's pretty good. If you need some recommendations OR if you have some recommendations for books to turn cynics into believers, leave a comment or two below.

Maybe there's enough fairy dust in this blog post to get you back to Neverland.

1 comment:

  1. Great thought about YA. Do you mind if I spare mi thoughts too?
    I think coherent people only looks down on YA because of what you've already said: It's a genre that is so filled with bad writing, clichés, bad characterization... A lot of YA books are poorly written. Others are outright horrible. Luckily, as you said, the genre is growing up, and some great YA books are appearing. I think the problem with YA is that is filled with bad books. And the worst part is that the more popular ones are so weak...
    To get me take a YA book seriosly it has to be well written and original. And, well, to some extent, they are doing it right. The last book I read (a spanish only book that is called "Sueños de piedra" which it's like Stone Dreams) was one of the best books i've ever read. It had it all: Great characters with deep conflict and development, good narration and real dialogues, relationship realism, a strong message... It's a fucking good book. The other two YA books I read before that were "El fin de los sueños" (The end of dreams, only spanish though), which was very good too (not stellar like the other, but very solid), and Throne of glass. That last one was weird. It wasn't bad per se, and gave me no reason to drop the book, but it didn't make me follow the saga. Also finished Lotus war trilogy, which I found to be only meh.
    My point is, YA level on average is very low, whereas in other genres there are well built representatives that can make up for the low quality books they have. But, what does YA have as paragons? (I'm really asking, I have no idea of which YA books are considered the best of the best).
    In the case of Girl On the Train, it's true that literary fiction (adult fiction) is more sad and looks for introspection and realism (which I dislike to some extent, because it's normally done bad), but Girl On the Train is simply an horrible book. It's suppossed that Lit Fic should seek for literary merit and a greater focus on style, theme and psychological depth... But sometimes fail at being something interesting to read.
    It also depends on what do you consider Lit Fic. 1984 is considered LitFic, and I wouldn't see it as that. YA has the same problem.

    I don't even know what i wanted to say. Anyway.


Say what?