Monday, August 13, 2012

Still Trying to Figure Out the YA Thing

NPR released a list of the top 100 Best Ever Teen books, which, whatever, but immediately someone jumped in with the question, of OMG WHY ALL THE WOMEN? Which also...whatever.

What interested me more in the Atlantic piece was the discussion of the rapid growth of the popularity of YA, and the question that seems to puzzle so many people--why are adults reading YA?

I started reading YA again a few years ago when I discovered it wasn't all like Sweet Valley High. But I still kept a pretty good balance of reading adult fiction and YA. But lately I find myself craving YA...and not only YA but also middle grade. I mean at one point I was watching Avatar: The Last Airbender and reading middle grade books and I had to ask myself...why? I mean have I regressed? Why was children's entertainment so appealing to me? What was it giving me that adult fiction wasn't?

I don't have any answers. I don't think it's a favoring of simplistic plots or that I'm adverse to nuance like the Atlantic suggests. My best guess is based on something I believe Gayle Forman said at the LA Times Festival of Books a couple of years ago when asked what made YA different from adult fiction. She said it's that YA tends to be a little more hopeful.

I think this is true. There's an underlying..gentleness and hopefulness to stories told for younger people that seems to be missing from adult fiction. That's not to say that hard and horrible things don't happen in YA fiction or that it doesn't have its share of darkness. I'm not exactly sure why or what it is, but I think there's an almost...opposite ideal in adult fiction...the darker you can make it, the more authentic it is. (obviously this is not true of all adult fiction) I just think that stories told for younger people on the whole take a more hopeful or even...compassionate look at humanity than adult which point we've all given up on each other ;)

I cringe while writing this...I can't help but think that people will assume I mean it's all really super happy and sanitized in children's lit land. It's not and that's not what I mean to say at all. It's a subtle difference in many cases but I think it's a real one.

Like, switching gears to television for a second. Did anyone else watch Breaking Bad last night? This is one of the most critically acclaimed shows on television, and it's also one of the most depressing. I don't even care if it's consistent in it's depiction of a man drunk on power who has lost all sense of morality. I can appreciate it for what it is, but I'll never be able to love it because ultimately it's very hopeless. Contrast that with Avatar: The Last Airbender where the ending of the show featured the hero trying to figure out how he could defeat his enemy without killing him. I mean....

So yeah, I still get strange looks in real life for my enthusiasm for children's lit. Even my mom, great advocate for children's lit!, let it slip the other day that she thinks it's weird I read so much YA. I'm not going to stop nor am I going to apologize for it. I will probably keep trying to figure out the why though.


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