Monday, February 7, 2011

Why Hate on YA?

Something about the young adult book market doesn’t add up. From what I understand:

  1. YA books are selling really well, both in their targeted age group and with older readers.
  2. Many YA authors are writing excellent, high-quality books.

So why doesn’t the YA market get more respect? I’m referring to a recent Publisher’s Weekly article covering Judy Blundell’s forthcoming YA novel Strings Attached. The article quoted Susanna Hermans, a bookstore owner and the co-chair of the New England Children’s Booksellers Association, as saying that “Strings Attached…is so well-written it could be shelved with the adult titles.” Hermans’ quote is probably not meant to put down the genre. I think that it does point out two valuable lessons for YA and authors generally.

First, I think it illustrates a value judgment common in our society. Things that kids like are often seen as less sophisticated than things adults like. The Daily Show is supposed to be deeper than Sponge Bob Square Pants. Impressionist art is alleged to be better than comic books. But like most societal rules, this one breaks down when looked at individually. I know a few adults were moved by Harry Potter.

Second, it points out the fallacy of a phrase we all use regularly while ignoring its inherent subjective definition. We all know good writing when we see it. But one person’s good writing is another person’s slop.

In my opinion, Blundell’s writing is breathtaking. I learned just by reading Blundell’s her first book, What I Saw And How I Lied. My hope is that Strings Attached gets the same kind of cross-over treatment that books like The Hunger Games is getting, with space in the YA and mainstream sections of bookstores. And my other hope is that books like this will help to raise the profile of the genre so that it gets the respect that it deserves.

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