An Adult in the YA Room: A Response to THAT Article

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Is it embarrassing for someone my age (27) to read young adult fiction?

Is it embarrassing for people my age to say that I should be embarrassed?

Should anyone be embarrassed to have an opinion?

I might be a few days late to this argument, thanks to an overburdened work schedule, a 4 hour fundraiser complete with alcohol (which I didn’t partake in), two long-distance drives for work in the space of 3 days, and an overall lethargic feeling. But that hasn’t distanced me from the overwhelming amount of articles about this subject, replying to Ruth Graham’s post on Slate titled Yes, Adults Should Be Embarrassed to Read Young Adult Books, the vast majority of which went on the assault against Graham’s claims that young adult literature is not literature, that John Green is no Steinbeck or Dickens, that the majority is trash written for children without an adult’s sense of reason and adults who read it should be shamed into hiding their “trashy” fiction behind the covers of adult books more suited for people their ages.

So I decided to write a letter.

Dear Ruth Graham,

Harry_Potter_and_the_Sorcerer's_StoneMy name is Megan. I am 27, I read young adult fiction, and I am not embarrassed. So many people I know my age are returning to the books they missed in their youth because of people like you, people like a teacher of mine who chastised anything that she believed was “commercial” (genre fiction, young adult fiction, and beyond) in our creative writing classes, people like my local rural library that only stocked outdated copies of The Babysitters’ Club, people like my so-called friends who sniffed in my direction for reading the ungodly Harry Potter.

What is wrong with reading books that remind us of days that were happier times, books that are not wholly depressing and, in your words, discomfiting? What is wrong with wanting to take a break from the hardships of the real world and dive into a story where a girl’s main concerns are kicking ass and getting the boy of her dreams, things that I wish I could deal with rather than the adult alternatives – divorce, cancer, Alzheimer’s, a horrible boss, and pure adult despair?

I will give you one thing. Young adult does have a reputation, and some of that reputation I will not argue against. There are formulaic stories that cater to the lowest common denominator, but for anyone to read those books does not earn them the right to be shamed by people like you who write for the sake of getting hits.

By highlighting only a few very popular books, you called out your own flaw in your model. Yes, “Twilight” and “Divergent” are both rather fluffy compared to the vast majority of adult tales where nothing happens. Meanwhile, your converse titles, “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Eleanor and Park” are not as good as anything adults write simply because they are about teenagers doing teenage things, and teenagers are not as sophisticated as adults. Even if these books have their faults, there is no denying that both have the same exact makeup as many of the books I assume you like. They are literary. They have the same level of prose as many very popular literary books that win awards, and both Green and Rowell have won awards for their literary prowess. That does not make them lesser, and maybe if you sat down and actually read a few of these books, books beyond the titles that make the news for movie deals and red carpet premieres and bestseller lists, you would begin to unravel the real world of young adult fiction and realize, “Hey, this is good stuff!”

fairylandI’m not here to deny that some of the faults in young adult fiction you claim exist are false. There are stereotypes that are true, formulaic plots, sappy romances that are full of instalove and creepy love and abusive love presented as attainable and desirable. But young adult fiction is one of the most innovative subsets of literature out there. While adult fiction falls victim to a desire to be commercial or award winning, leaving out many innovative stories that should be told but won’t be because “they won’t sell”, young adult fiction’s growth with adults has led to such a remarkable array of books for teens and tweens that adults can love and enjoy just as much as our younger and arguably just as mature comrades. Catheryne M. Valente’s Fairyland books are ostensibly for middle school children but have more depth, literary merit, and character than half the “adult literary” stories you think adults should suffer through. Lauren Oliver’s “Before I Fall” (which I have not read, but heard much about) has been heralded as a literary tale that has as much merit for adults as any book out there. Books like “Freakboy” and “I Am J” have brought so much more attention to transgender stories than anything I have read in the adult realm in years.

So, Ruth, what is wrong with adults reading books that they like? At the end of the day, that is what this is about – what is so wrong with young adult books that you believe I should be embarrassed for my friends, family, coworkers, and pure strangers to see me sitting there reading the latest release, be it literary or romantic or dystopian or anything? What is wrong with me wanting to broaden my horizons and read?

Nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

Sincerely,

Megan, a Slate reader who is deeply, deeply disappointing that they would publish a short-sighted, flawed, and disrespectful article.

PS. Ruth, don’t take this the wrong way, but as a suggestion. Do me a favor and pick up a few of the titles I mentioned, and go to your local library and ask the youth librarian for some suggestions, or to your local bookstore. Broaden your horizons and explore the world which has brought me so much joy. You’ll change your mind quickly, I promise.

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