Monday, June 6, 2011

Why YA? Why not?

Recently, the prestige and caliber of modern day YA has once again been cast in spotlights. Although it's been a recurring debate as of late, this Wall Street Journal articles has further thrown fuel on the fire. Numerous blog posts and twitter hashtags resulted (notably, #YAsaves & #YAkills). Now, a ton of great stuff has been said - the majority of it supportive of YA - so I'm not going to rehash that too much. I would, however, like to further propose a few points for discussion (and really, feel free to pop your opinions down below as comments).

First off, the age bracket of YA. The general acceptance seems to be the 14-18 range, solidly, although usually the span is greater, ranging from 12-20. Now, let's take note of the fact that this is indeed a wide range of ages, especially since it encompasses the onset of puberty and the transition into "adulthood". But let's also keep in mind the fact that everybody develops at a different rate, age is just a number, yada yada. As cliche as it may sound, it is also undeniably true that yes, a lot of 12-year-olds haven't had the same life experience as someone who's say, 30. But it is also likewise true that there are countless 16-year-olds out there with a much greater amount of maturity in their possession as someone who's say, 40. Furthermore, young adults aren't the only ones reading YA. Older adults aren't the only ones writing YA. And really, any decently written, worthwhile book should be able to transcend the superficial labels of age anyway.

The article by Meghan Cox Gurdon has already been hotly debated with numerous examples of how #YAsaves and counterexamples of dark fiction published in previous generations. To quote, "How dark is contemporary fiction for teens? Darker than when you were a child, my dear:" And then she proceeds to provide the example of The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but The Marbury Lens is not contemporary YA. Let's compare apples with apples and oranges with oranges, shall we? If we look at John Wyndham's The Chrysalids or Ayn Rand's Anthem, fiction that contains sci-fi or dystopian or fantasy or paranormal elements in general tend to be darker than straight-up contemporary. YA contemporary of which there is an abundance of light-hearted, fun, easy-going reads, regardless, in addition to those that deal with the heavier material.

There seems to be a fair amount of First World naiveity going on here as well. When we look at the rest of the world, the brutality, the mutilation, the terror, the torture, the horrors of daily life... Things far worse than what's depicted in today's YA literature exists out there, occurs out there, and will continue to occur out there if it's ignored. Considering that the 'young adults' of today are the leaders of tomorrow, isn't it of absolute importance that these youth are exposed to the realities of the world so that we, homo sapiens, as a collective species, are able to acknowledge our flaws and our brutality so that we are able to take steps to ameliorate and eradicate said negativity?

Do we really want to spawn a generation whose biggest concern is whether the whale appears on Twitter, a generation who rages at being unable to access Facebook at school, a generation who dwells in ignorance of the atrocities that occur in the world? Let's take a famous example here, Harry Potter. Now, isn't it a valid point that Lord Voldemort, the Horcruxes, separating his soul through homicide, etc. etc. is comparably "dark" to those themes mentioned in Gurdon's article? And yet... we haven't seen anything on the news lately about any young adults attempting to split their soul through murder - shocker!

Judy Blume has published books as recently as 2008 - three years ago. Pretty sure that was the same generation as this current one, which would make... Judy Blume the Judy Blume of our generation, yeah?

And onto Katie Roiphe's article - in the Wall Street Journal Business section, no less - from two years ago today. The insult parade gets a head start with the title: "It Was, Like, All Dark and Stormy". Well, if that isn't a huge generalization about supposed "teen-speak". But most importantly, in the 'Corrections & Amplifications' section, the writer herself acknowledges: "Also, in the novel "Hunger Games," one teenager of each sex from each district competes in a competition to the death. Previously, the essay incorrectly said one teenager from each district competed." First off, the title of the book is The Hunger Games. Secondly, considering that the fact that both Peeta & Katniss are from the same district is such a key aspect of the novel - and the double tributes are such a dominant motif throughout - it would've been picked up by even a scanner-reader. Which begs the question, did Ms. Roiphe even read the novel before making judgements and trying to incorporate it as evidence?

Wall Street Journal, I can't say I'm not a little disappointed. Once, fine, maybe it was one article gone awry. But twice? And practically on the two year anniversary of the first? Really, really?

Maybe it's time to take a page out of npr's book on this topic.

What're your thoughts on this whole issue?

1 comment:

Marilyn Almodóvar said...

I will not stop professing my love of YA and the writers and readers. I think our rebuttal was so much better than the way that they have insulted our genre. Reading the #YAsaves was just compelling and made me grateful to write YA. I also posted about this, as I think most YA authors and readers have done. WSJ should receive their own Rotten Tomato XD

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