Sartorias recently hosted an interesting discussion at Oached Pish about YA fiction. Apparently, YA fiction is booming and is being read by adults as well as young people. Sartorias asked, "If you read YA, tell me what you read, and why."
The reasons varied. Some people like coming of age stories. Some prefer YA's shorter length or find it easier to read because the stories tend to be more focused and to include less description or other digressive elements. A few prefer YA because they don't care for the graphic sex scenes that can be common in genre fiction for adults. (Though I think YA today is less "safe" in that respect than it was when I was young.) And some felt that YA was just better written and more interesting than most fiction published for adults.
I found this discussion interesting for a couple of reasons. For one thing, I've always been one for reading outside of my age group. Ever since I was young, if it was printed I'd have a go at it -- regardless of the target audience. Popular Science, Boy Scout magazines, my mom's parenting magazines, anything I could get my little hands on. (Okay, I really was too young for Moby Dick though the bits about cutting up whales were kind of interesting.)
But as I got older, I was never embarrassed to go down the age group ladder. A new Dr. Seuss title? I'm checking it out! A new Beverly Cleary? I'm on it! I think my parents might have been embarrassed, or perhaps just puzzled. "But you're a good reader!" they'd say. "You shouldn't be reading children's books. You could go on the adult side of the library."
The problem was that I'd already been there. And the books in the general fiction area seemed pretty uninteresting. Judging from their novels, it seemed that adults were only interested in sex and money. Boring! (I realize now that I was probably just unlucky in my selections. Or perhaps literature as such was filed under its Dewey Decimal classification.) In the meantime, there were loads of new books in the children's and YA sections and I had yet to read them all.
I gave up reading YA in the mid-seventies when it became depressing and problem oriented. Suddenly, it seemed like every new book was relentlessly hammering out a universe of hopelessness: drugs, divorce, depression, disease, and doom. Disfunctional families were now the norm, and adults were presented as uniformly incompetent and untrustworthy. It's not that I wanted books that were all sweetness and light, but it seemed to me that growing up could hardly be worthwhile, given such nihilistic worldview. And I had a sneaking suspicion that the universe was actually better than it was being painted.
Since many of the commenters on Sartorias's blog mentioned liking YA because it was hopeful, optimistic, and interesting, it might be time for a second look. I decided to take down author and title recommendations and see if I could find a few of them at our local public library. Many of the ones I wanted were not available, but I got these:
- The New Policeman by Kate Thompson
- The Stones Are Hatching by Geraldine McCaughrean
- The Book of Changes by Tim Wynne-Jones (This was an accidental grab as I was intending to get any book by Diana Wynne Jones, and the author's first name was not on the spine.)
- The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton