Saturday, September 12, 2009

What YA is and isn't

I'm so pleased that Liz Burns shared YA author Mary Pearson's* recent essay "What YA is and isn't" over at the Tor books website. Like Mary, any time I talk about YA books to people who are unfamiliar with the field, I feel like there are layers and layers of misconceptions to cut through. YA lit cannot summed up by its most well-known commercial products, such as the Sweet Valley High and Fear Street series in the 1980s or the Twilight and Gossip Girl books of today. Nor is it fair to view YA as nothing more than a stepping stone that teens may or may not touch on their way to "better" books. And yet so many who haven't read YA do dismiss the field with these kinds of judgments.

I like how Mary ties the denigration of YA books to our culture's tendency to denigrate adolescence. She writes:

I wonder if everyone’s very strong opinions about this one segment of literature comes from our attitudes about the teen years? We fear them. We want teens to "get over it" quickly, and heck, let’s not mess with books that just dwell more on the teen years! Move on!
Perhaps for some teens and young adults, adolescence was/is so excruciating that the thought of revisiting or delving into that time of life through fiction is just too much. For me, reading YA has been a decades-long process of reflecting on the teen years--my own and those of teens whose lives are completely different from mine. The books I read present teens who I wish I'd known when I was growing up. They are smart and worldly. Through their heartfelt efforts to make sense of a complex world, they actually show me the best of adolescence.

*If you haven't read Mary's novels A Room on Lorelei Street (Henry Holt, 2005) and The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Henry Holt, 2008), you should do so right now.

1 comment:

  1. Woo-hoo! I'm adding you to my list of blogs I check! And I've already added to my list of books to buy for my classroom... :D So glad you're doing this! -Kris G.