To YA or Not to YA
by Patrick Hodges
I read a post last summer by Ruth Graham of The Slate Book Review. What grabbed me was the headline: “Against YA,” which was followed by the subheading “Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.” The article coincided with the theatrical release of The Fault in Our Stars, which was a huge success both at bookstores and at the box office.
Graham’s post basically said that any adult whose age was well outside the target demographic of this novel and others in its genre read YA only for the purposes of “escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia.” That as mature adults, we should find the way most teenage-themed books end far too simple, given our life experiences. “YA endings are uniformly satisfying … and 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.” Graham went on to chide all adults who dare to read YA with the line, “Fellow grown-ups … we are better than this.”
I was incensed.
The fact of the matter is that there are great YA books and there are crappy YA books, just like there are great adult books and crappy adult books. I’m sure there are millions of guys my age (I’m 45) who prefer Tom Clancy or John Grisham or David Baldacci to the kind of books I love, and hey, more power to them. But the reason I – me, personally – love YA is not because I’m in a midlife crisis; it’s not because I need to escape the humdrum (Ian Fleming’s novels aren’t escapism? Please.); and it’s not because I’m addicted to simplicity.
The truth is, young people tend to be more candid about their emotions, as they’re at a point where they haven’t yet learned to bury their passions under layers of stoic resolve. And for the same reason, YA books are equally emotional. And I like this about YA. Actually I love it.
Also, as mature adults, we rarely do things “for the first time” anymore. Reading about characters that are transforming themselves from kids to adolescents, from teens to adults, is tantalizing. Whether that transformation is brought about by tragedy, hardship, or a radioactive spider, seeing how resilient youths cope with change helps us, as adults, cope with the stresses of our own lives. Life is about change, and even we crusty old farts can learn a few things from the way kids handle the same stresses that we deal with every day.
Bottom line: Just because I’m a grown-up doesn’t mean that I ever want to forget what it was like to be a kid. Reading books about kids – and for kids – will not turn back the clock for me; it will not make my hair less gray or my vision less blurry or my mind less … um, what was my point again?
Oh yeah. YA stands for Young Adult. I’m an adult, and I will continue to read – and write – in this genre as long as I damn well please. Now, where are my pills?
Patrick Hodges lives in Arizona with his wife of fourteen years, Vaneza. After doing weekly columns for entertainment-related websites, he has turned his attention to writing fiction. He is passionate about sending positive messages to young people. Joshua’s Island is his first novel. A sequel is in the works. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or “like” him on Facebook.