Sunday, August 17, 2008

Grey Matters?

Fiction: Young Adult vs. Adult.

Having grappled this concept myself, I found this set of point-counterpoint articles fascinating.

I'd once been told that one of my novels is too adult for children and too childish for adults. I disagree, and not out of pure knee-jerk defense. I understand where the comment came from and can see how it has merit. Yet I tend to agree with some of the arguments raised in the counterpoint article. It's a grey area, I believe, and sometimes separating the black from the white in it is not such a good idea. I'm not condemning it entirely, just saying not to be afraid of grey as much as we seem to be.

I encourage you to read both these articles in full, as the snippets in the link are only the crust of their bread. I'll admit I did not spend the time to read the comments/discussion on either (since those can usually go both ways in terms of value.) But I would like to hear your comments. What's the difference between these two in your opinion? Should there even be a distinction? Just curious...

Curioser and curioser. - Alice, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
[For kids, but read by adults, who get something entirely different out of it, by the way!]

Although it is not the book I spoke of at the start of this post, I also am thinking of Peter Pan's NeverWorld. I'm often asked: Is it for kids or adults? I'd like to turn this around slightly. Is Peter and Wendy a.k.a. Peter Pan for kids or adults?

But that is not the question on which I wish you would focus.
Take a look at these articles and see what you think.


Danielle Mari said...

Good conversation- one that the English teachers at the Academy had many times in our faculty lounge. My two cents? The YA label carries with it a negative stigma for many of the reasons discussed. But both good and bad YA exist. Bad YA patronizes- it's usually written by an adult who writes with a barely camouflaged agenda to teach kids to be kind, be PC, say no to drugs, what have you. The teens I encountered could see through this drivel in .09 pages. Good YA features fully realized protagonists who happen to be in their tweens or teens. Good YA starts the action within the first page or two, yes. (So should good adult fiction, by the way!) In fact, I think that the YA in "good YA" ought to refer to the protagonist, not to the audience... I reread some YA from time to time-- P&W currently, but David and the Phoenix, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madeleine L'Engle... And I am most definitely no longer a YA. I'm a MAA! (Though my students thought of me as an OA.)

dbz said...

I don't have any strong feelings about this subject but I do think that the YA label provides a means for authors to publish their stories that adults might not fully "get" by which I mean to say that it might be so focused on the YA viewpoint that the language and situations seem somehow foreign to adults. I'm not for it, myself.

I read YA when I was a kid - I don't even know if it was a specifically-labeled genre then, but I found it in the kids section of the library and at the Scholastic Book Fairs.

I found much of it to be pablum once I reached a certain age that was nowhere near adult because it all followed the same pattern - as if the book wanted to be my parent in a few short pages and teach me how to be a good person. And I didn't read to be a good person, I read to be entertained. And we all know, good people are rarely entertaining. Unless they have epic challenges to overcome. Challenges that have been put in place by very bad, very entertaining people.

I think the phenomenon that is Harry Potter - I know, but from an objective perspective - proves that fiction is fiction and if done well, needs no further categorization. And I'm only interested in well-done fiction, now as I was then.

Mel said...

I'll confess I only skimmed the articles in your link, Pete, but I'm going to comment anyway. I think that YA has really emerged as a genre in the past decade or so and while Harry Potter has certainly helped make YA a little more "mainstream" (ie acceptable to find in an adult's library), the real growth in the genre predates Harry. As with any genre, there's good and bad. I read book reports about some YA books that have me rolling my eyes and laughing in contempt at the ridiculousness of the plot, and then there are ones I read that compel me to go track down the book and read it for myself. There are books out there tackling pretty challenging issues in a well-done manner that are entertaining to both teens and adults. Those books are the ones we have a hard time keeping stocked in our library at school. Good YA provides a bridge for "average" readers into "adult" literature. The real problem to me is the lack of good quality "adult" literature out there. More often than not, the first "adult" lit my kids are tackling is stuff like Nicholas Sparks or Jodi Piccoult (who wrote the book that prompted me to laugh OUT LOUD during a student's oral book report because I could not beleive how ludicrous the plot was).

In the end, labels are just that -- labels. Labels are for the marketers not the readers. They give us an idea of what might be contained inside but ultimately it's the reader who matters and makes the experience. As Harry Potter (and Eragon and the Stephanie Meyer books and even the Traveling Pants) proved, we're going to find the books no matter what label is tacked onto it.

C.J. Redwine said...

YA is a fast expanding market these days, one I read often because I'm thinking of dipping my toe into the pool.

My understanding from agents and conference seminars, is that current YA needs a protagonist who is in their teens. As for subject matter, I think well done YA captures adults as well as teens (see Harry Potter or Stephanie Meyer) and transcends the genre.

I do see the importance of accurately labeling one's manuscript so agents/editors are reassured you had a plan going into it and there's a place on the shelf for it. =)

There are several authors really pushing the boundaries of what it means to write YA at the moment. Might be fun to be one of them.