You know what seems pretty amazing to me?
What's amazing to me is that I can have a conversation with someone about how much they love comic books, or action figures, or LEGO, or animated movies for children, and agree that these things are indeed awesome and fun. Also agreed is that anyone who claims that adult people shouldn't be reading/playing with/watching these things (like Serious Adult Dudes Who Write for Esquire) should really just relax about what people find enjoyable, and maybe not shit on them all the time.
I have those conversations all the time. But they go differently when I say (in the same spirit) that a lot of my favorite science fiction and fantasy books are YA fiction. Somehow, YA fiction is exempt from the rule of Awesomeness Not Being Tied to Target Audience.
Why is that?
You know what I read when I was growing up? A lot of stuff that was not only above my grade's reading level, but also intended for adult readers. I read things like Piers Anthony's Xanth novels, from A Spell for Chameleon to Demons Don't Dream (yes, it took me that long to realize that these books were basically formulaic crap with panty-fetish and creepy sexism, because I started reading them when I was ten years old and stopped when I was thirteen). I read things like Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt novels, which are also formulaic but substitute fairly straightforward sexism, self-indulgent author cameos and vintage automobiles for panty-fetish. I read Dirk Francis' mystery novels, because hey – horses! And mysteries! Some of those I'll even pick up for a re-read (my favorite is The Edge). I read almost all of Robert A. Heinlein's books – some of which I still treasure, but a lot that I'll never re-visit. Same with Isaac Asimov – I love his short stories. I don't think I'll read any of his novels again. I read Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, which is hefty for a twelve-year-old (I was hooked by The Hobbit - which is YA fantasy).
I read all of this, as well as a lot of books that were intended for people my age.
Now that I'm older, I find myself uninterested in many established and newly-written books that are written for adults. Part of this is idiosyncratic – I like what I like, a good book is a good book, and I'm past the point of forcing myself to read something just because it's been widely-praised, or is supposed to be a must-read for a particular genre. I know that I won't live long enough to read everything that I want to read, so why waste time on things I end up not wanting to read?
What's wrong with YA fiction, and YA science fiction and fantasy in particular (which is primarily my interest)? Here are some justifications for the blanket dismissal of YA that I've heard personally.
YA is full of Teen Angst.
Well, no. It isn't, unless your definition of Teen Angst is so broad that it includes "young people with feelings," which seems a little unfair. Children and teenagers are allowed to have feelings, too. And yes, it's sometimes frustrating for adults to relate to them because they have yet to gain the life experience to manage their feelings the way adults do, or to put those feelings in a broader perspective. But children and teenagers also deal with real problems, and they're allowed to have opinions and emotions about those problems. And since problems are conflict, you're going to see a lot of young people dealing with problems in YA fiction. Funny, that. This brings me to the next justification:
YA doesn't deal with real, adult problems.
Actually a lot of it does. Because some of the problems you have when you're a kid are directly related to the problems you have when you're an adult. There are some things that are too big to be relegated to a single age bracket. Death is one of those things – it's not a "kid problem," and if you think that most kids aren't faced with death at some point in their developing years, I have to conclude that you lived a most fortunate and sheltered childhood.
The ending of relationships is another problem that isn't specific to kids. And a relationship doesn't have to be romantic in nature for it to cause strong emotions when it ends, nor does the relationship have to be a healthy one, or a benevolent one. Change is hard, and even when that change is necessary, that doesn't always make it easier.
Bullying is not specific to kids, although it's a common belief that this is so. As bullying behavior is being more commonly correctly identified in our society, it becomes more and more apparent that adults face problems of bullying as well. In fact, at my place of work, bullying behavior is explicitly identified as a form of workplace violence. If you make your co-workers afraid to come to work, or make them feel as though they are unsafe when they work with you, then you are a bully. It doesn't matter how old you are.
There are, of course, a lot of other issues that are dealt with in YA novels – I just picked a few of them as examples.
YA doesn't confront harsh realities – it pulls punches. It's not realistic.
Okay, what was I just talking about? These are harsh realities. These are brutal facts, being confronted by young readers. If you're going to quibble about the lack of "realism" in characters using magic wands or laser swords to help them confront these issues, then I have to ask – do you have these same qualms about "realism" in your adult SFF? If not, why is YA different?
And about "pulling punches" – I'd disagree very strongly that any kind of positive resolution to the problems in a YA novel constitute "pulling punches." I'd also disagree that you can always expect a happy ending from a YA novel. There's just as much variation in genre books that are targeted to young adults as there is variation in genre books that are targeted to adult adults.
YA is full of romance.
Some of it is. And it's that way because romance is a literary genre. YA romance is a literary sub-genre, and YA supernatural romance (thanks for making that A Thing, Twilight) is a literary sub-sub-genre (or whatever you would call it). Saying that YA is full of romance (as if that's automatically a Bad Thing) is like saying any non-romance genre is full of romance. Also, there's that whole people-having-relationships thing. Sometimes those relationships will be romantic. It happens. Because, as stated above, young people are also people.
Of course it's fine to have your own preferences regarding the kinds of romance you might find in a book, regardless of genre – but it's both inaccurate and lazy to handwave away an entire genre because romance.
So why all of the animosity toward or disinterest in YA SFF? That's what's really difficult for me to comprehend, especially when I'm discussing it with people who, in almost every other media, fully embrace things that are marketed to younger people. I don't see how someone could claim that they're not interested in every single work that falls under the large umbrella that is YA fiction, and at the same time decry other people who claim that they're not interested in science fiction, fantasy, or any other broad genre. Also, it behooves us to remember Sturgeon's Law:
90% of everything is crap.
If you're not interested in YA fiction because nothing you read while you were growing up stuck with you, or you feel like you've never read any YA that you've liked, then I've put together this helpful list of suggestions for you. Give them a try, or don't. Just think about it, the next time you walk past the YA section at the library or bookstore, or are tempted to dismiss someone's enthusiasm about a new book that they've read just because of where it happens to be shelved.
Dianna Wynne Jones
- The Dark Lord of Derkholm
- Year of the Griffin
- Deep Secrets
- The Merlin Conspiracy
- The Chronicles of Chrestomanci
- A Tale of Time City
Percy Jackson and the Olympians
- The Lightning Thief
- Sea of Monsters
- The Titan's Curse
- The Battle of the Labyrinth
- The Last Olympian
Heroes of Olympus
- The Lost Hero
- Son of Neptune
- The Mark of Athena
- The House of Hades
- The Blood of Olympus (October 2014)
The Kane Chronicles
- The Red Pyramid
- The Throne of Fire
- The Serpent's Shadow
Song of the Lioness
- The First Adventure
- In the Hand of the Goddess
- The Woman Who Rides Like a Man
- Lioness Rampant
- Wild Magic
- Emperor Mage
- The Realms of the Gods
Protector of the Small
- First Test
- Lady Knight
- Trickster's Choice
- Trickster's Queen
Circle of Magic
- Sandry's Book/The Magic in the Weaving
- Tris's Book/The Power in the Storm
- Daja's Book/The Fire in the Forging
- Briar's Book/The Healing in the Vine
The Circle Opens
- Magic Steps
- Street Magic
- Cold Fire
- The Will of the Empress
- Battle Magic
The Old Kingdom
- Shade's Children
- The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents
Tiffany Aching series
- The Wee Free Men
- A Hat Full of Sky
- I Shall Wear Midnight
And these are not even a quarter of my bookshelves. I have plenty more suggestions, and hopefully more may show up in the comments sections.