Of YA Fiction, Literary Complexity, and “Great Adult Literature”

I came across an infuriatingly condescending Slate article by Ruth Graham entitled “Against YA,” wherein she argues that adults should feel guilty about reading books “written for children.”

The author goes on to make broad generalizations about young adult literature, which only emphasize the fact that she hasn’t read enough YA novels to make such claims. Shallow and poorly-written books exist in ALL literary genres, but there are remarkable stories that are insightful, moving, masterfully crafted, and fall under the category of young adult fiction.

What Graham fails to understand is the significant impact that a book makes on a reader regardless of the genre.

YA FictionPhoto courtesy of the sister

To this day, I still consider Roald Dahl’s Matilda as one of my favorite books for it jump-started my love for literature. Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time kick-started a love affair with fantasy and science fiction. Katja Millay’s The Sea of Tranquility and Carol Rifka Brunt’s Tell the Wolves I’m Home moved me in ways that I couldn’t even articulate. Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park made me grateful to be young and in love and to be living in a world where beautiful stories such as this one exists. I will be eternally grateful to J.K. Rowling for writing the Harry Potter books, and to John Green for aiming to “decrease world suck” and introducing young readers to different kinds of literature through his many creative projects (particularly Crash Course Literature). I have often expressed my love for YA books, and I will continue reading these kinds of stories no matter how old I get.

Reprimanding adults (or anyone, for that matter) for reading YA novels simply because they were “written for children” is downright laughable. Graham writes:

Fellow grown-ups, at the risk of sounding snobbish and joyless and old, we are better than this. I know, I know: Live and let read. Far be it from me to disrupt the “everyone should just read/watch/listen to whatever they like” ethos of our era. There’s room for pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader. And if people are reading Eleanor & Park instead of watching Nashville or reading detective novels, so be it, I suppose. But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something.

By generalizing YA fiction as mediocre and questioning its literary complexity because they “present the teenage perspective in a fundamentally uncritical way”, Graham insults the intelligence of readers, who are more than capable of thinking for themselves.

The problem lies not in the fact that there are adults who read YA fiction. It is in the elitist way of thinking that “we are better than this” and only “great adult literature” is worthy of our time.

Reading, whether for pleasure or cognitive stimulation, is still reading, and no one should ever feel embarrassed about doing so. Granted, there are books that are made entirely out of horseshit and turn brains into mush, but one becomes a discerning reader through practice. The important thing is that there are still people who are choosing to read, no matter the genre of the book or the age of the reader.

Stories affect readers in different ways, and as in everything else, there are exceptionally good ones and excruciatingly bad ones. But nobody should be denied the pleasure of discovering a book so beautiful and moving, that it will remain with you forever.

For more in-depth discussions regarding the matter, click on the following links:

No, you do not have to be ashamed of reading young adult fiction by Alyssa Rosenberg on The Washington Post

Slate’s Condescending “Against YA” Couldn’t Be More Wrong — Young Adult Fiction Is for Everyone by Elisabeth Donnelly on Flavorwire

A Question of Regression by Carina Santos on Nothing Spaces

Hey, Everyone! Read Whatever the Fuck You Want by Mark Shrayber on Jezebel

This was a post by Hanna, who is seriously considering revisiting her childhood favorite books.

Of YA Fiction, Literary Complexity, and “Great Adult Literature”

3 thoughts on “Of YA Fiction, Literary Complexity, and “Great Adult Literature”

  1. […] Young adult literature gets such a bad rap, but it respects its readers and provides an honest exploration of adolescence. While there are some books that turn brains into soup (regardless of the genre), there are those that are clever (E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks), heartbreakingly beautiful (Katja Millay’s Sea of Tranquility and Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park), honest (Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak), deliciously scandalous (Pamela Moore’s Chocolates for Breakfast), and unbefuckinglievably badass (Kristin Cashore’s Graceling). […]

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