Earlier this week, Ruth Graham wrote a post on Slate.com called “Against YA.” She began the post by saying, “Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.” She proceeds to entirely bash adults who read young adult books. Her main argument can be summed up in this quote: “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. ” She also claimed that The Fault In Our Stars–while being a “nicely written book for 13-year-olds” did not make her cry. (This leads me to believe she has NO SOUL.) She also complains that all YA books have endings that are too neat and that YA books do not offer thought-provoking complexity.
Now, I’m a little late to the game here on the “adult YA fans who are pissed off about this” train–as is evidenced by brilliant posts like “Really? Are We Still Genre Shaming People For The Books They Like?” and “Creating Readers, not Shaming Them” and “Adults Can Read Whatever The Hell They Want”–all of which you should read. However, I simply could not let this one go by without getting my two cents out there.
First of all, saying that YA books are not complex enough or that they all have “satisfying” endings or that these books present the teenage perspective in an uncritical way is just plain wrong. Both Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky had endings that left the reader thinking, that left the reader “unsatisfied” in some cases while still resolving the story. (There are a ton of other examples as well.) Additionally, I found both of these books to be complex portraits of the teenage experience. There are just as many YA books that offer “literary” content as there are books for adults. I mean, how many books for adults can you name with endings that are tied up in a bow or that don’t offer complex portraits for adults? YA is just like any other genre: some of the books will be books that really make the reader think and some will be entertainment before anything else. But I would also argue that a great deal about storytelling and the human condition can be learned from not only young adult books but also children’s stories like Peter Pan or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. These stories have value for both children and adults alike. (As a writer of both work for children and young adults, the goal is to always create a story that people of all ages can enjoy–though it may be geared towards a certain age group.)
I mean, how pretentious is it to say “well, you shouldn’t get anything meaningful out of this piece of art”? If I watch Mary Poppins and have an inspiring and sincere experience even though I’m 29, does that make me less of an “adult”? Are you going to tell me I should never enjoy or get anything out of any art that was geared towards younger people? Don’t we all remember what it was like to be children or young adults? Aren’t we all still those people on some level? Being a teenager is a time for finding your identity and figuring out who you are. In some way, I think we struggle with those things at many times as adults, which is probably why so many adults are feeling connected to young adult books.
Secondly, no one should ever feel embarrassed for reading any book, and you shouldn’t be telling people how to feel about the books they are reading. If you want to read all young adult books or all children’s books when you’re 35 or 40 or 70, then great! If you want to sit on your couch and binge watch House of Cards and never read anything, that’s fine, too. People work really hard, and how they choose to relax or entertain themselves or engage in intellectual stimulation or experience art is their damn business. I would never tell anyone they should be embarrassed for reading or watching anything. Just let people like whatever the hell they like.
So I say you should never be embarrassed to like the stories or books or movies or plays or music that you like. If something brings you a meaningful experience or if a story simply makes you happy, I think that’s enough of a reason to feel good about reading it.