Monday, September 15, 2014

My Take on Against YA

Today, I chose to talk about the infamous Slate article, Against YA, written by Ruth Graham.  I am incredibly late with post since the article was written months ago, but I thought I should give the topic time to calm down.  It also gave me some time to really think about the author's points.  

In the following numbered points, I will be presenting the author's ideas and then following them up with my own.  This is not to say she is totally wrong but more to present two different points of view on the matter.  

1. "But even the myriad defenders of YA fiction admit that the enjoyment of reading this stuff has to do with escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia."

The thing I take issue with here is that Ruth Graham generalizes.  She takes a few opinions and attaches them to the whole group.  Opinions without context.  Because what she grabs onto here are keywords that startle her.  It is not a full explanation of what adult readers get out of reading YA.

I would also argue that if a book is good and well done, it takes us out of our daily situations and struggles, and deposits us into someone else's story.  It diverts and distracts.  This is effectively, escapism.  I'm not just talking about fiction.  This goes for narrative nonfiction as well.  What I am also not understanding from this article is why escapism, instant gratification and nostalgia are so harmful. I am actually very curious to know how these three things have negatively affected adult readers.  Are these readers allowing escapism and nostalgia to take over their lives? 

2. "But crucially, YA books present the teenage perspective in a fundamentally uncritical way. It’s not simply that YA readers are asked to immerse themselves in a character’s emotional life—that’s the trick of so much great fiction—but that they are asked to abandon the mature insights into that perspective that they (supposedly) have acquired as adults."

This rings false for me.  In reading a YA novel as an adult, you are asked to read.  You are not asked to abandon your own beliefs and values.  I think that that is taking it a bit far.  I have never wavered in being critical of a character and their actions because of the age range of a novel.  As the author herself proves in her own article, you can read YA and still find characters to be unrealistic and ridiculous.

To say that authors write a character with the expectation that readers should swoon for them is so strange. They present characters they create and it is up to us to decide what we think.

3. "Most importantly, these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction."

What I find so intriguing about the above idea is that she connects the real world with adult fiction in the same sentence.  She talks about how realistic or contemporary YA is not reflective of the real world and I agree, it is not.  But I do not expect it to be since it is fiction.  It is a story that someone thought up that takes place in a world similar to our own.  There are no spirits or superpowers or angels or futuristic technology.

Do I want loose ends tied up in this fictional universe? You bet I do.  Why should adults reject a happy or satisfying ending to a story that is not real?  Because life is disappointing and unfair and it can end abruptly? Adults and teens know how life truly flows.  Wanting a good ending to a book is not a bad thing or a sign of maturity.

Final Words:  I feel that Ruth Graham's article is a reactionary piece because she fears that young adult novels are replacing literary fiction for adult readers.  It is my opinion, as an adult, that literary fiction is not for everyone and not for every reading moment.  I believe that readers should read widely, across genres and across bookstore age categories or else they will miss out on the joys of reading.  Readers should feel comfortable in trying new things and not be shamed by friends, family or their peers for doing so.  But how can they when a sarcastic article like this one is published a few times a year?

I also think that many adults can relate to contemporary YA fiction because sometimes the situations presented in those books reflect their adult lives.  Before you scoff and close this page, give me a moment to explain.  Life is messy and confusing, obvious right? However, turning 21 or 35 or 48 or 57 does not end that. Some people take decades to figure out what they want out of life, what they want to do and who they want to be.  They also make immature decisions and make painful mistakes. YA contemporary fiction presents all that in the formative years.  

What Ruth Graham lacks is an understanding that adults are people who are ultimately different.  You cannot shoehorn people into your own self-created categories of what a reader is and what they should be reading and what their reading experience should be like.  Truth is that some individuals find literary fiction too boring, formulaic, highbrow and inaccessible.  These are actual comments made by my friends who are tired of academia and their constant need to pretend that literary novels are always 100% amazing.

Just read what you want.  Do not be ashamed of it.  Be critical and question it.  Have fun.

Graham, R. (2014). Against YA. Slate.  Retrieved from

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