But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Shailene Woodley, the 22-year-old star of this weekend’s big YA-based film. “Last year, when I made Fault, I could still empathize with adolescence,” she told New York magazine this week, explaining why she is finished making teenage movies. “But I’m not a young adult anymore—I’m a woman.”
YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction.
...There's some really amazing shit out there beyond the simplicity of who loves whom, who bites whom, who grows into what, etc. There's also people who care about how the words are written on the page. People who challenge assumptions about basic story arcs, and character development, and emotional connection. There is a world that's not just Mcdonald's and Olive Garden but that little Ethiopian spot with that weird soury spongy bread.
And down the cliff we went. It was a poisonous day. Every now and again the wind would take a rest from pressing us to the wall, and try to pull us off it instead. We would grab together and sit then, making a bigger person’s weight that it could not remove. The sea was gray with white dabs of temper all over it; the sky hung full of ragged strips of cloud.
We spilled out onto the sand. You can fetch sea-hearts two ways. You can go up the tide wrack; you will find more there, but they will be harder, drier for lying there, and many of them dead. You can still eat them, but they will take more cooking and, unless your mam boils them through the night, more chewing. They are altogether more difficult.
Those of us whose mams had sighed or dads had smacked their heads for bringing that sort went down toward the water. Grinny ran ahead and picked up the first heart, but nobody raced him; hearts lay all along the sea-shined sand there, plenty for all our families. They do not keep, once collected. They can lie drying in the tide wrack for days and still be tolerable eating, but put them in a house and they’ll do any number of awful things: collapse in a smell, sprout white fur, explode themselves across your pantry shelf. So there is no point grabbing up more than your mam can use.
It’s not simply that YA readers are asked to immerse themselves in a character’s emotional life—that’s the trick of so much great fiction—but that they are asked to abandon the mature insights into that perspective that they (supposedly) have acquired as adults. When chapter after chapter in Eleanor & Park ends with some version of “He’d never get enough of her,” the reader seems to be expected to swoon. But how can a grown-up, even one happy to be reminded of the shivers of first love, not also roll her eyes?
This article seeks to persuade you that you should read certain things rather than others in your presumably finite reading time.
You know what makes a novel a young adult novel? The marketing team decides to sell the book to teenagers. They turn up in the young adult section of bookstores or in the "teen" room at the library. What unites books like Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why with Stephenie Meyer's Twilight or Scott Westerfeld's Uglies? Very little, aside from the fact that they feature high school age (and often female) protagonists.
To say that these books represent a cohesive genre is a bit like saying that G and PG movies represent a genre because they are so frequently marketed to kids.
Plus they describe her has a 'journalist.' Is that actually accurate? Or is she an MFA brat?
“Why did you say that about YA?” I asked, as tears streamed down my face like rain.
“Because it’s true!” she hissed. And I saw in the moonlight that her anger made her beautiful. This was before the war, when the oceans still had water, and the moon was still visible in the sky.
“YA is formulaic, worthless dreck,” she said, transforming into a vampire.
“The novel was invented in the 19th century,” I whispered, inhaling the sweet perfume of her glossy robot hair. “It was written for mass consumption and primarily consumed by women and poor people. Jane Austen and the Brontes? Rich white men would have been ashamed to read that stuff. They pored over what was then called serious literature—Latin and Greek texts that were hundreds or thousands of years old. Like you, they probably argued that the drudgery of simply getting through a text was a vehicle for meaning making. But does that make it right, Ruth? Does it?”
There was a cliffhanger.
There are readers, and then there are serious readers. Mark the difference: a reader will allow his or her eye to wander over text indiscriminately, reading, for example, this year's Edgar Award winner for Best Novel Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger, the price of Spanish sweet onions at the grocery store, stop signs en route to work, the headlines on the cover of the New York Times resting in the basket at the Starbucks, the words on the Starbucks cup, the New York Times itself, and potentially, even the instructions on the back of the microwaveable instant Thai noodle bowl planned for supper. Of all these infractions, the reader should, of course, be most ashamed of deliberately picking up Ordinary Grace and turning the pages one after another, because it falls under the mystery genre, and it is the “juicy plots” of this genre that cause the amateur reader to lift the tome and squeeze it like a blood orange, allowing hedonistic juices to flow recklessly down his or her arm, and proceeding to lap the nectar like a feral, flea-ridden cur.
But Submergence offers so much more, as Graham goes on to explicate:
…which explains why the novel has been “rattling around” in Graham’s capacious head for as long as it she claims. Upon finishing this section, I proceeded directly to an online flower site and sent Graham a bouquet written in the Victorian language of flowers meaning, “Congratulations for reading such an important book.” And when, in the article, she described reading John Updike and Alice Munro as a teenager, I purchased an entire sheet of gold stars (recalling my own halcyon days of reading Alice Walker and William Faulkner in high school) and sent her the reward she so richly deserves.
YA, at its heart, whether it’s fantasy, mystery, contemporary, romance, or literary, is about growing up, finding boundaries, and discovering who you are. Many Millennials aren’t confident in their identity and who they’re going to become, living instead in a state of nebulousness created by a changing society, a shifting economy, and a radically altered world. These aren’t experiences that older generations can fully comprehend, which is one reason why Millennials find themselves so frequently targeted for ire as selfish or lazy. Under these conditions, it’s not surprising that the desire to seek out books that resonate is viewed as further evidence of the juvenile attitudes of Millennials.
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