Friday, February 5, 2010

Writing for Young People is NOT a Lesser Art Form

This evening I have been participating in a hashtag conversation on Twitter: #whyYArocks. This was tarted by the illustrious Ellen Hopkins in response to a review of BEAUTIFUL CREATURES by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. (Psst, here's Margaret's take on the whole fandangle.) The review is generally lovely and positive. However, the reviewer implies what a lot of our society echoes: readers of young adult literature are lonely people, that they aren't as discerning as adult readers, and that young adult books aren't so much literature as they are something fluffy we give to teens to tide them over until they can read "the big books."

It's a trend I've seen in a lot of other articles over the past few years, and it saddens me as both a writer and a reader of young adult books. For one thing, teenagers are some of the least casual readers I've met. They can tell me exactly what plot point an author forgot to follow through on, what sort of continuity errors are in the third book of series X, and specific reasons they'd vote for a character for president. They read in many different genres, whereas many adult readers limit themselves to one type of book, or even just one author.

This trend, looking down upon books for young readers, is also disturbing because it implies that a writer of young adult or kids' books is less of an artist than a writer of adult books. It is a different, art, yes. In some ways, it could be argued that writing for young adults is even more important than writing for adults. But, nonetheless, young adult (and kids') books run the literary gamut just as much as adult writing. There may be "fluffy" romances and "generic" thrillers, but there are also thoughtful dystopian novels, hearty historical fictions that many adults wouldn't tackle reading, hard-hitting books about real issues and mind-bending high fantasies that give Tolkein a run for his money. We have vampire fiction that touches on everything from Romanian mythology to social class and elitism to classic literature. We have novels that cross political lines and address social taboos and don't apologize. I've included an example of each of these types of YA literature in this post.

YA writers are not writing with a handicap. Our work does not need to be judged on a different scale.

YA books can be as sophisticated or as light as any adult novel, yet adult reviewers and the literary elite look at the books (and their readers) as second class citizens. I have talked to countless authors who claim that they have been asked by friends and family "Yes, it's great that you sold your children's book. Now when are you going to write a real novel?" That breaks my heart.

As someone who sits on both sides of the fence -- I'm both a "snotty" poet and a "lowly" YA writer -- I just want to see this end. If Rowling and Meyer are any indication, the market for books for young readers has evolved over the last decade in a way that makes juvenile fiction accessible in a whole new way. Not only are children buying books and thinking of authors as other generations have thought of rock stars, but adults of all ages are choosing to include young adult and children's fiction as part of their literary diet. It's not going away. And it's about time this huge section of your local library is given the props it deserves.

I challenge you, whomever you are stumbling across this blog, to go to your local library or bookstore and ask the staff for a literary YA novel. They won't laugh or sneer or even puzzle over it, if they're worth their salt. They'll give you a whole stack of options. And when you've somehow managed to choose which to read first, when you've taken the plunge and devoured this novel, I guarantee you this: If you weren't on board to begin with, you'll be ready to join the YA Revolution.


  1. BRAVA!!! As a reader and teacher (we'll consider the writer stuff) of YA, I couldn't agree more. I will show this post to both my students AND my adult friends.

    Anyway, Tolkien wrote The Hobbit as not even a YA, as more of a children's or middle level book - and although he knew LoTR trended up, I doubt he would have classed it outside of YA. And there are many other classic examples. YA authors should be proud of the company they keep.

    Again, just.... Brava!

  2. Viva la revolution!
    I've not only heard this from a number of people (that YA doesn't quite measure up to adult writing) but I've found myself borderline apologizing to other writers.
    It goes like this:
    "What do you write?"
    "Oh, well. It's ...young adult fiction?"
    "But, you know, it's still very literary."

    What? Come on! I'm crazy proud of my genre so why are we made to feel this way?

  3. I am totally not a teen, but love YA for the pacing, for the excellent story telling, and for how easy it is to relate to. I think there is some fabulous literary YA out there (Hello John Green) which is every bit as good as adult literary. Also, I totally love how engaging YA books are, and how accessible YA authors seem to be, as compared to adult authors.

    Love your post though, because it's true, writing for young people takes as much talent as writing for adults.

  4. I'd love to read it. My new young adult fantasy book has just been released, you might want to check it out "The Pages of Lost Time"

  5. Great post, Emily! I'll ask (for fun) at the local B&N and see what they recommend, too :)

  6. Well said! This bugs me to no end.

    We WILL prove them wrong!