Harry Potter mostly isn't YA...
May 9, 2015 9:49 PM   Subscribe

 
Ten years ago, we shamed adults who read YA. Now we shame adults who don't. Progress?
posted by incessant at 9:54 PM on May 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


So basically their reasoning is every adult would love to read a Middle Grade/YA book because everyone has been 8-12 years old.

Solid, level-headed, unassailable logic.

Also explains why I love strained peas so much, because I once was a baby!

(Really, shouldn't this article be renamed: "Interested in Middle Grade books? Here are some you might be into!" which would be a thousand times more accurate.)
posted by tittergrrl at 9:58 PM on May 9, 2015 [21 favorites]


I'm just going to read whatever because eventually somebody will justify reading it and I'll have been right if I carefully use selection bias.
posted by solarion at 10:01 PM on May 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


Middle grade != YA, FYI, though when a place separates out "children's" and "YA" without a separate middle grade section they end up split between.

I read more YA than MG stuff but I read a lot of MG in particular when I'm on PMS weeks, because I realized a trend in when I would read something sad or scary and then end up totally fucked up, and there's a lot of stuff in MG that is adventuresome and relatively light but still well-written and good.
posted by NoraReed at 10:02 PM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]




Is this where we recommend middle grade fiction that might be under-appreciated by adults? I love the world-building and strange imagery in both the Monster Blood Tattoo and Lockwood & Co. series.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:08 PM on May 9, 2015 [5 favorites]




I have heard it broken down thus:

Middle Grade: Wow, my dog is a werewolf!

YA: The werewolf is my boyfriend.

New Adult: I fucked my werewolf boyfriend.
posted by Sokka shot first at 10:17 PM on May 9, 2015 [138 favorites]


Okay. The chart says to read The Lightning Thief. I will try it.
posted by isthmus at 10:19 PM on May 9, 2015


The Difference Between Middle Grade & Young Adult
Middle Grade and YA: Where to Draw the Line?
How to Know If Your Book Is Middle Grade or Young Adult


Counterpoint: just write the book the way you want to write it and let it find its audience.
posted by Ratio at 10:27 PM on May 9, 2015


As I understand it, the primary reason for YA to be a thing is that there is literature that we keep away from children because we don't want children exposed to that sort of content.

When it comes to ideas, grammatical constructs or cultural references that are beyond the 13 year old reader, they either get bored and stop or they plow through it and become one of those annoying precocious kids (like I was).

I like the idea of rating things young adult just so we can shame adults for indulging in them though. Pizza soft drinks and burritos, reality TV, jeans ballcaps t-shirts and sneakers, pop music. But if the only thing differentiating adult literature from young adult literature is the fucking and dying, I don't really see the point, and if anything the adult literature is the stuff we might not want to be proud of.
posted by idiopath at 10:45 PM on May 9, 2015 [5 favorites]




When it comes to ideas, grammatical constructs or cultural references that are beyond the 13 year old reader, they either get bored and stop or they plow through it and become one of those annoying precocious kids (like I was).

A lot of YA stuff is pretty romance-heavy and I just didn't give a shit about that when I was younger, even when I could read it. I wanted to read about kids like me, not kissing.
posted by NoraReed at 11:29 PM on May 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


The lumpers and the splitters chase each other eternally.

The splitters are wrong: nothing in life fits in neat boxes.

The lumpers are wrong: nothing is just a grey soup. You can tell carrots from the noodles.
posted by bonehead at 11:30 PM on May 9, 2015 [14 favorites]


Continuing from bonehead: The universe was not designed to be categorized, and it may be impossible to categorize everything - something we literally cannot imagine. It's like mathematics being internally inconsistent.
posted by BiggerJ at 12:00 AM on May 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


I remember the good old days when YA was either Judy Blume books or Tom Sawyer. Or Daniel Pinkwater. YA is brilliant marketing though.
posted by Nevin at 12:35 AM on May 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


The problem with the "YA" tag is that when an avid reader actually becomes a "young adult", they probably prefer to get into something with more meat, like Dune or Stephen King.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:53 AM on May 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


the rate at which YA books are read by adults would disagree with you there, Brocktoon.
posted by NoraReed at 2:23 AM on May 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yeah, YA tends to be shorter in page count, but most YA novels I've read in the last decade have at least as much "meat" as Dune, and often more considerably more character development.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:29 AM on May 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


also some of it has a lot less tropetastic colonialist and sexist bullshit. i mean, there's still plenty with it, but you can find stuff with rich worldbuilding that doesn't strain credulity if you have basic knowledge of sociology
posted by NoraReed at 2:42 AM on May 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


It's important to remember that some of our best-loved classics were written with non-adults as an important audience: The Phantom Tollbooth and The Mouse and His Child are each a phenomenal treatise on philosophy and observations of daily life, written into a quest tale meant to capture the imaginations of children. The genre is a less cynical form of satire than (say) Candide, and it tends to deliver a more nuanced perspective on the figures it lampoons.

Also the scene-setting prose in The Mouse and His Child seems to have been inspired by The Wind in the Willows, and profits greatly by it.

I almost considered choosing a username that riffed on The Last Visible Dog, but decided against it at the last minute!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:56 AM on May 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


when an avid reader actually becomes a "young adult", they probably prefer to get into something with more meat, like Dune or Stephen King.

I was one of those "young adults" who got into Dune and King's oeuvre around ten and eleven, and suspect that at that time if someone had said "Yeah, but here's some fiction for young adults!" my delicate sensibilities would've been offended... being able to read that which can be found in an airport bookstore, but being offered something less (in terms of the age of the target market)? Tssssss.
posted by mr. digits at 3:59 AM on May 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


The splitters are wrong: nothing in life fits in neat boxes.

The lumpers are wrong: nothing is just a grey soup.




"But there have always been Splitters and Lumpers!" I say to Miquel across the dying embers of the campfire. "The Polity wouldn't function any other way! That's why we have The Committee, and The Trials!"

"But," replies Miquel, his eyes gleaming, "What if there were people who were both Splitters and Lumpers?"
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:01 AM on May 10, 2015 [45 favorites]


> But if the only thing differentiating adult literature from young adult literature is the fucking and dying...

Honestly, I was having a conversation about middle-grade books with an old friend a minute ago, and we pretty much came to the conclusion that YA books have the fucking but middle-grade books (and not YA) are all about the dying. Middle-grade books (especially the ones from the 70's when the genre really took off) are the most devastatingly sad genre in English Lit I can think of, probably a lot due to the ouevre of Katherine Paterson alone, but also looking at Jane Yolen's holocaust exploitation books, Roll Of Thunder Hear My Cry and all the other historical horror novels, the existential glitch-scream of The Mouse And His Child, everything by Louise Fitzhugh... I dunno if the genre's lightened up since I was in elementary school in the 90's but middle-grade books always seemed a million times darker and more adult than YA ever has been.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 4:24 AM on May 10, 2015 [12 favorites]


I think there's this subgenre that is sometimes YA, sometimes MG of stuff by Katherine Patterson, Sharon Creech, some Judy Blume, etc that are these kind of enjoyably-sad reads that I totally reveled in around 10-12 when I was just sort of figuring out what those emotions I had were and how books could tickle them, you know? A lot of those are about death. But that's certainly not all of MG stuff. I think mostly they are more likely to make characters actually deal with death emotionally and explore that instead of having it be something to raise the stakes in an adventure-type story.

There is some sex in YA but the vast amounts of stuff coming out of BYU means there's a lot that doesn't include it. But the Big YA Series Of The Moment is still The Hunger Games, which doesn't really have any sex in it but does deal with a character forced into prostitution and kills off most of its cast, leaving its protagonist SUPER traumatized. I read a ton of YA and can't think of many novels that don't kill characters off; the MG I read is mostly fantasy adventure and I can't really think of anything that doesn't involve a fair amount of character death.
posted by NoraReed at 5:24 AM on May 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


I never really liked the super sad books, and can remember not enjoying it when I would get near the end of a book and realize that it was about to drop the sad bomb. But by 12 I was reading adult books and had no patience for YA fiction; based on the very small amount of YA books I have read in recent years (including one or two of the Harry Potter books and a few others), I am still not attracted by them. I see adults reading them all the time though (and probably more often as ebooks), so clearly adults are an important part of the market for young people's fiction.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:34 AM on May 10, 2015


I'm not even going to link Stewart Lee's Harry Potter routine because he is a little mean about it.

But: No. No. I would not love middle grade books. They were OK when I was a child, but they have not been my thing for a very, very long time. And I mention the Stewart Lee thing because it's not just this article. This actually happens. People try to convince me that I'll really really like some children's book or movie or something, and they do not let up. And because I did something very similar to what Stewart Lee does to a guy who was persistently giving me shit about not having seen some children's movie. Oh, no, you'll really like it! You have to watch it! Ha ha, how have you NOT seen it? Hey everybody, she hasn't seen [children's movie]! You HAVE to see it!

I have not seen it because my child was a teenager by the time it came out, and I was not motivated to see it because I do not enjoy children's media.

I don't care at all if you do. I am not judging you for enjoying the things you enjoy. I too enjoy some things that some people think is inappropriate, and I don't care. And you shouldn't either.

You like talking animals, though, right? There's a talking fox in Antichrist. You'll love it! Oh, you HAVE to see it!
posted by ernielundquist at 5:57 AM on May 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


And I just realized that it's extremely uncool of me to keep referring to that Stewart Lee thing without linking it.

Just to be extra clear: I do not actually say things like that to people unless they're really really asking for it, and I don't fully endorse what he's saying.
posted by ernielundquist at 6:03 AM on May 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Nothing says funny like English snobbery.
posted by Bonzai at 6:13 AM on May 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


When I am reading something wonderful that I enjoy I have no particular age.
posted by jfuller at 6:36 AM on May 10, 2015 [10 favorites]


Are you currently a breakfast eater? -> Yes -> You should read a cereal box!
Are you currently a breakfast eater? -> No -> Have you ever eaten cereal? -> Yes -> You should read a cereal box!
Are you currently a breakfast eater? -> No -> Have you ever eaten cereal? -> No -> Discover cereal boxes!

I love Book Riot to pieces, but...Keep in mind that they just launched a YA Quarterly box. So they have a bit of skin in the game of promoting YA (and younger) reading to people with credit cards.
posted by kimberussell at 7:10 AM on May 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


i sometimes read YA on the train, which involves Pigs (interseller) or Wrinkles in time, or houses witg stairs.
The wider world can suck my great glass elevator.
posted by Mezentian at 7:19 AM on May 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: You probably made a wrong move. Try again.
posted by sneebler at 7:46 AM on May 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


my first middle-grade novel came out in april, and I'm often asked about the difference between writing it & my YAs. obviously, stuff like simpler and more straightforward language, more vignette-feeling scenes, less (no) cursing & sexual content, etc.

but that all came naturally, I suppose, writing in an 11-year-old's voice & for kids that age. the bigger challenge was the subject matter: my book is very dark. the boy's family are survivalists, preparing for some unspecified doomsday. there are characters with PTSD, agoraphobia, severe anxiety. and yet I never put a name to these things as I would have in a YA; I'm describing them through my character's 11-year-old-eyes. it's been interesting watching adults or older teens (who see what's going on) read the book versus kids.

I was also aware that for some of my kid readers (supposedly they're 8-12), my book might be their first introduction to these dark topics -- not just PTSD, but the whole concept of preparing for an apocalypse. there's a big responsibility in that. while they're the kind of topics I was drawn to as a kid, they also frightened me and/or opened my eyes in a bone-deep way I still remember. it can be a strange & humbling power, writing for kids. I think we all still wear some of those kids' books inside us.
posted by changeling at 8:51 AM on May 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


But if the only thing differentiating adult literature from young adult literature is the fucking and dying...

Hmm... what did all those Christopher Pike books qualify as? Because I know the age I was when they were targeted at me and my friends, and "8-12" isn't wrong.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:15 AM on May 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


It occurs to me that most of my favorite kids' books are middle-grade, not YA. I mean, this list of best middle-grade books is also pretty much a list of best kids' books period. And I don't know if I would get as much out of The Westing Game or From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler or The Wolves of Willoughby Chase or about 12 other books on that list if I'd first read them as an adult, but I'm glad I read them as a kid. (And yes, The Witch of Blackbird Pond should be on there, too. My oldest nephew is in second grade, and I'm working up a list of books that I want to give him. I'm sort of tempted to ask him if he wants to read some of them at the same time, so we can talk about them. So yeah, I am on board with middle-grade books, even if I'm not necessarily inclined to read newly published ones for fun. And actually, I might be inclined to read When You Reach Me for fun, because that sounds completely great.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:53 AM on May 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


I can confirm that When You Reach Me is very, very good.
posted by Artw at 10:08 AM on May 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty much just going to keep reading any book that catches my interest.
posted by kyrademon at 10:48 AM on May 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


you can find stuff with rich worldbuilding that doesn't strain credulity if you have basic knowledge of sociology

Right, like the part where it's possible to sustain a technological society over an area the size of North America with a population under five million?
posted by 7segment at 11:16 AM on May 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nothing says funny like English snobbery.

It seems a little xenophobic to complain about the Englishness of an English person complaining about a book series written by an Anglo-Scot and first published in the UK.
posted by howfar at 12:04 PM on May 10, 2015


Well, complaining about the existence of the books and the fact that others are reading them. Having not read them himself, Lee has little to say about them in actuality. (I normally love Stewart Lee. That bit is kind of weirdly out of character for what else I've seen from him.)
posted by Navelgazer at 12:11 PM on May 10, 2015


It's probably not best to take a bit from this particular comedian out of context, however tempting it might be, or how appropriate it might seem. Just because of the way he structures shows, and I don't remember whether there's anything else in that show that plays off that particular bit.
posted by Grangousier at 12:14 PM on May 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Wire is great and I'll gladly recommend The Wire to people, but sometimes people who really want to recommend The Wire all the time always need to STFU. See also people ago recommend Firefly too much, assorted other nerd crap.

So I can sort of understand.

(I probably wouldn't have read the Harry Potter books if I wasn't reading it to my kid, and in some ways I think that's the best way to read it bar maybe being a kid, but I am pretty glad I read them. )
posted by Artw at 12:24 PM on May 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


The Dark is Rising also seemed edgy as a 10 year old 35 years ago.
posted by Nevin at 12:36 PM on May 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


Not enjoying YA media does not mean someone is full of themselves, and adults who do enjoy YA media are generally not immature. Insisting that there is something wrong with people who do not share your exact preferences just makes you a jerk.
posted by reventlov at 12:38 PM on May 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


I like the Harry Potter book a lot, for what they are, without being blind to their flaws. That Stewart Lee bit was from the first series of Comedy Vehicle, which had problems on occasions (in Lee's own estimation) precisely because the joke of "Stewart Lee" the character being somewhat delusional, snobbish and grandiose didn't come off as well as he wanted it to. That was the reason for the introduction of the hostile Armando Iannucci character in the second series.

So, yes, I'm perfectly fine with criticising Stewart Lee on this point (up to a point), I just don't think the fact that he's English is very relevant.
posted by howfar at 12:42 PM on May 10, 2015


Yeah, the Stewart Lee thing is harsh, but I could relate to the frustration, having had people insist that I will just love something I am sure I won't. And that article had very much the same feel as the nagging and insistence I've experienced sometimes from people who won't accept a polite rejection or a vague "Thanks for the suggestion." There are people who really evangelize their media, and the more popular something is, the more likely people are to forget that their tastes aren't universal.

I don't think less of people who enjoy things I don't enjoy, including those written for YA or younger audiences. I do, however, think less of those who assume their tastes and interests are universal, and of people who are persistent after they've been told no.

The article probably looks like hyperbole, as though this woman could not be possibly accosting and evangelizing at people like that, making flowcharts with no out arrow. But I am here to tell you: That really happens. There are people who think like that. Please don't encourage them.
posted by ernielundquist at 2:06 PM on May 10, 2015


I agree that it makes me a jerk, but I totally lost interest in a woman after she told me she hated the Cohen brothers.
posted by broken wheelchair at 2:14 PM on May 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


You probably want to spell their names correctly if you're going to be judgmental.
posted by desjardins at 3:12 PM on May 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


I think it's important to understand the development of YA as a genre, and the fact that it was not terribly distinct from MG until around the time of Harry Potter. Content-wise, old teen books run the gamut (though they were mostly cleaner than Judy Blume's Forever) from aimed at 8-year-olds to aimed at actual teens, though mostly the focus was on books published by romance publishers and word counts were generally very low, or, conversely, books were more sophisticated but still very slim and aimed at the library market. This is why a lot of genre readers went straight to adult SF/F or horror, becuase there just wasn't a ton of at all pulpy genre in juvenile lit for that age group (there was some--Vivian Vande Velde and LJ Smith come to mind--but people like Lois Lowry and JK Rowling were really game changing). Especially if you were a reader who could devour something like Willo Davis Roberts' The Girl with the Silver Eyes in an hour. For those readers, it was Mercedes Lackey or bust (though sooooo much genre reads just like modern YA).

Anyway, I don't much care about people who don't think much of children's lit, other than assuming that magic is dead in their hearts.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:41 PM on May 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Anyway, I don't much care about people who don't think much of children's lit, other than assuming that magic is dead in their hearts.

Wow, seriously? That is a kind of thing you both think and publicly express?

What exactly do you think adult literature is?
posted by ernielundquist at 3:51 PM on May 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow, seriously? That is a kind of thing you both think and publicly express?

Well, yes. I was being a bit flip, but really, I think it's a failure of empathy to deride an entire age category of literature. I find there's often quite a bit of classism in these arguments (augh, the Stewart Lee rant about books being in supermarkets as if that somehow cheapens them.) Often some sexism, too, as children's lit is so frequently written by women. But mostly, I find it a limited and ignorant argument, because children's literature, including YA and MG, is incredibly diverse, from very tight, contemporary literary novels to sweet pulpy genre stuff. It's one thing if you don't feel like reading, or don't like, Harry Potter. It's another to say "Well, I don't read these things [which I know almost nothing about] because I'm a grown man," which implies the experiences of children (and implicitly women) aren't worth reading about in favor of, say, the works that have long been in the canon which are almost uniformly wretchedly white, largely upper class, and often male.

The complete works of William Blake, or whatever.

I like adult literature. There's plenty of it that's magical and interesting. But I find the experiences of children and teenagers to be especially magical and interesting for a buttload of reasons, which is why I like reading about them and why I like writing about and for them.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:23 PM on May 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


Also, you all should read changeling's middle grade book because it's phenomenal, and I say that both as someone who writes kid lit and someone with an MFA in poetry from a snooty snooty school.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:25 PM on May 10, 2015


Sadly, no one even talks about picture books enough to bother snootily dismissing them.
posted by dng at 4:30 PM on May 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


I was just going to make a crack about how if you don't love Sandra Boynton you have no soul.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:34 PM on May 10, 2015


Much like"casual game", " YA novel ", as a descriptor, is mostly only useful as a lightning rod for assholes.
posted by Reyturner at 4:37 PM on May 10, 2015


Well, no, it's very useful for selling books to a certain target audience, be they actual teenagers or people who like reading about them.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:38 PM on May 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would almost certainly qualify as proto-middle-grade, no?
posted by Navelgazer at 4:53 PM on May 10, 2015


> I probably wouldn't have read the Harry Potter books if I wasn't reading it to my kid

I recommended them to my kids after picking up the first one, starting it, and feeling the hairs on the back of my neck prickle. "I am reading a great classic of kidlit" I thought, "which is destined for the very top shelf along with Tolkien and the Oz books and Narnia and His Dark Materials." I read HP aloud to them at bedtime as the books appeared and this was thoroughly enjoyed by all, especially me. (I do love to read aloud.) I hope and expect that my kids will look back at this as an experience for them comparable to my own parents reading LOTR to me as those books appeared.
posted by jfuller at 5:02 PM on May 10, 2015


No, I don't think so. I think Tom Sawyer might qualify as proto-middle-grade, but Huckleberry Finn is proto-YA.

All joking aside, I read Stephen King's entire oeuvre the year I was 12, and I'm fairly certain he would be marketed as YA if he were getting started now.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:04 PM on May 10, 2015


Some people don't like it. That doesn't mean they're dead inside.

Cite, please.
posted by asperity at 5:09 PM on May 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Some people don't like it.

As I said, I was being tongue-in-cheek, but the real point is that there is no "it." If you don't like JK Rowling and want to read something literary you can read Melina Marchetta or Jandy Nelson or Andrew Smith or Patrick Ness (please read Patrick Ness) or maybe you don't even want to read prose so you can read Christine Heppermann or Helen Frost. It is an incredibly broad genre , just as broad as "adult literature."

Unless what you mean by "it" is "reading about the experiences of young people." That it's socially acceptable to say or imply says more about how little our society values children as human beings than anything else.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:13 PM on May 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


OK, well I guess I'm a soulless snob and asshole for not enjoying the things you do, then. It certainly pays off in social capital, though. I'm held in quite high regard thanks to the carefully studied affectation where I don't like the things everyone else I know does.

But imagine some specific genre or type of work that you just don't care for, for whatever reason. And imagine it is extremely popular and that people were nagging you not just to give the genre itself a chance, but each specific instance of it individually. I mean, you can't judge a book by a single specific quality, but there's a point after which you're going to start noticing that you never really enjoy a certain type of thing, and you choose instead to focus on the things you do enjoy instead.

Young adult media (and I suppose middle grade, although this is the first I've heard of that term) has become wildly popular recently, to the point that it's pretty much pervasive. And because I do not live in a cave, I'm not unfamiliar with it. It's just not my thing. There are adult books about and from the perspective of children, so the child-hating theory isn't it. Maybe I just prefer stories that draw from a wider range of adult experiences, or maybe it's something about the writing style that doesn't do it for me.

But I frequently find myself tip toeing around the fact that I haven't read or seen some young adult or children's thing, because if I tell people I haven't, they'll often either harangue me about it until I have to be rude, or make nasty assumptions about my character and my motivations. And both of those things are just really, really shitty.
posted by ernielundquist at 5:54 PM on May 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


Sadly, no one even talks about picture books enough to bother snootily dismissing them

Is this where we recommend picture books that might be underappreciated by adults? I was recently reminded of The Canine Kalevala and ordered a copy for myself. It's amazing, and I think it's relevant to this discussion insofar as it crosses a number of boundaries people sometimes take for granted, because it's a story with adult themes based on an epic enjoyed by adults, and it's a 'fantasy' story yet it's information about cultural touchstones--all bound up in a work for children that isn't even aimed at middle grade readers. I can think of other examples like that, and I've found them all very absorbing even as an adult.

I do think there are understandable reasons why some adults might never, ever avail themselves of media experiences developed for children (it's probably the worst case, but I can imagine a difficult childhood spoiling them all, leaving someone not dead inside but perhaps with a complicated relationship to a common source of happiness). If they don't really have a choice in the matter--even for much less serious reasons--I hope people leave them alone about it. But in a thread about children's literature, it seems on point to mention relatively obscure examples worth consideration.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:13 PM on May 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


And I don't know if I would get as much out of The Westing Game or From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler or The Wolves of Willoughby Chase or about 12 other books on that list if I'd first read them as an adult, but I'm glad I read them as a kid.

To be fair, I gave a copy of The Mixed-up Files... to my Archives professor because it's the only book I've ever read where the climax revolved around Records Management.

Also, the only fan letter I have written as an adult was to the author and the illustrator of The Great Pushcart War, which might not even be Middle Grade but is a manifesto on class justice and direct action, so there.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:44 PM on May 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Anyway, I don't much care about people who don't think much of children's lit, other than assuming that magic is dead in their hearts.

I spent a large percentage of my childhood reading (well, first being read to, and then reading on my own) young adult books. Most of what has been named above like the Twain books and The Dark is Rising, plus classics like Roald Dahl and Little Women and The Trumpet of the Swan, along with more contemporary books. If it had won a Newberry award, it was probably in our house.

But for all that those were all formative books for me and I reread all of them many times, it's a genre I don't feel called to read at this point in my life. (If I had kids, I would of course be reading to them.) Those books are amazing as YA literature because they are speaking directly to young people, and now that I am not a young person I am looking for a different voice in the books I read. Other than when reading the books to their kids, I don't recall my parents and their friends reading YA books for the most part, either -- that seems like a much more recent phenomenon.

This is why a lot of genre readers went straight to adult SF/F or horror, becuase there just wasn't a ton of at all pulpy genre in juvenile lit for that age group

This is very true, and is why I went directly from YA books to genre along with books like Clan of the Cavebear that my parents were reading. I am sure my reading experience would be different if I was growing up today, with the very different market segmentation and much wider YA book spectrum.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:53 PM on May 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wasn't the author of The Pushcart Wars also Jessamyn's landlady?
Other than when reading the books to their kids, I don't recall my parents and their friends reading YA books for the most part, either -- that seems like a much more recent phenomenon.
It is, but that doesn't make it a bad recent phenomenon. Adults didn't read graphic novels when I was a kid, either, because comic books were for kids until Maus came out, but that doesn't mean it makes sense to announce that you're just too highbrow and mature for graphic novels.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:01 PM on May 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


There are people who don't like YA media because they're too in love with the idea of themselves as an Adult Person who likes Adult Things, but to paint us all that way is pretty insulting. I have no problem with the idea of consuming YA material, but have learned that, at least as far as books go, YA is just not for me. Sure, there's probably some YA book that I would like, but life is finite.

I mean, I love all of the adult Discworld novels -- even the early ones -- but when I started a Tiffany Aching novel, I just sort of put it down after about 30 pages, and never picked it back up. I've tried several other YA books over the last ten years, due to recommendations or popularity, and the result is always about the same.
posted by reventlov at 7:51 PM on May 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Other than when reading the books to their kids, I don't recall my parents and their friends reading YA books for the most part, either -- that seems like a much more recent phenomenon

You have in part Harry Potter to thank for this, not just as a phenomena but also for demonstrating to publishers that there was money in higher wordcounts and greater complexity. Tamora Pierce has written a bit about how she was constrained, told to keep her books under 40,000 words. Modern YA books look and feel like adult novels, have the heft of adult novels both literally and figuratively.

Anyway, it seems weird to me to come into a thread where the article in question suggests a whole bunch of books in a wide range of styles and subject matter and equate that with being told you must like one series or title, which is a pretty different thing (and, well, the Stewart Lee bit is not exactly engendering warm fuzzies. Some of us write this YA stuff). I'll stand by my belief that these age categories are incredibly diverse and that there really is something within MG or YA out there for pretty much everybody as long as readers are open to reading about kids. Many grown-ups aren't, and that sucks and is sad.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:56 PM on May 10, 2015


All joking aside, I read Stephen King's entire oeuvre the year I was 12, and I'm fairly certain he would be marketed as YA if he were getting started now.

I have read *most* of King's work (75% or so) and I cannot take this statement seriously.
So, I'll science it.
I'll need three kids (aged 11-13) and Christopher Lee reading 'Survivor Type' in a darkened room.

I mean, even stuff like the pre-teen gang bang in IT really isn't YA.

He has YA elements (Stand By Me nails it) but I am not sure teens want or need to read the 'plug it up' scene in Carrie.

Real life is horrific enough.

(That said, I read a hell of a lot of King in my teens).
posted by Mezentian at 2:35 AM on May 11, 2015


I was going to challenge the "no sex, no swearing" YA categorisation by pointing out fiction I've read where these themes are definitely included, but I have only just this very minute realised, after checking on Amazon, that the The Color Purple and The Bluest Eye are not YA books.

That's because when I had to write a book report in 6th grade, my mother handed me The Color Purple. I showed it to my English teacher to have my book choice approved, and she asked "Who's Alice Walker?" My mother was so horrified. she yanked me from that school mid-year. At my next school, we were assigned The Bluest Eye, and that would have been 7th, 8th or 9th grade.

Perhaps it's because of this misconception I've carried around for the last 30 years that I've never had a prejudice against YA or even Middle Grade fiction. I'll read anything, and have enormously enjoyed so much of the YA that's come my way in the last few years.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:19 AM on May 11, 2015


How would To Kill A Mockingbird be marketed if it were released today?

How about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?

Little Women? The Hobbit? Oliver Twist?

People might want to consider these things before summarily rejecting "YA" and "Middle Grade" as categories entirely ...
posted by kyrademon at 3:49 AM on May 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Unless what you mean by "it" is "reading about the experiences of young people." That it's socially acceptable to say or imply says more about how little our society values children as human beings than anything else.

Or maybe that some of us had childhoods in which all we wished for was to grow up and never have to think about childhood or adolescence ever again.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:37 AM on May 11, 2015


To Kill A Mockingbird
Is Boo a vampire, or a werewolf? Couldn't tell. Maybe give him a sexy cousin too.
Cover: a buff guy (Boo Radley) with trenchcoat and a huge knife faces off cover while a your girl (Scout) looks back over his arm at the reader. She has long blond hair, which blows in the wind.

Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Needs to punch up the Irish/faerie.
Cover: A girl with "Celtic" tattoos facing the viewer, lightly embraces a tree. She has long red hair which blows in the wind.

Little Women
Why aren't these girls a coven!?!? There's a whole Charmed sisterhood vibe we're missing here.
Cover: four hands over a cauldron doing witchy things. Some have "tribal" tats, some have bangles, all have perfect nails.

The Hobbit
Needs love interest to sex up main character. Make Fili and Kili girls to fight over Bilbo.
Cover: Dragon (this one's a gimme), dwarf twins bound up in foreground in chainmail bikinis. Their hair is long and blond and blows in the wind.

Oliver Twist?
Needs rework to set up Dodger/Pan sequel. For example, can Bill get his hand taken off by a crocodile? Also Tinkerbell was really hot. She needs to be in this too.
Cover: A young boy with a cute fairy (pending clearance). She is tiny, has a tribal tattoo on her shoulder. Her hair is blond and blows in the wind.
posted by bonehead at 7:54 AM on May 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Mosque added to my already-too-long "to read" list. I really ought to know better than to click through to links like this by now.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:05 AM on May 11, 2015


It seems like this conversation is an excuse for people to humblebrag about how precocious and mature they were, reading adult books at age 12.

I have an actual 12-year-old right now who is a devourer of books, and surely could handle any adult book I put in his hands. But I don't really want him reading Stephen King or Dune right now, and I'm thrilled that he has his own section in the bookstore where he can pretty much pick out anything and I know it's going to be appropriate. There's a lot of really excellent MG and YA fiction out now -- Patrick Ness's "More Than This" was as good as most of the grown-up stuff I've read in the past year. My son has worked his way through Rick Riordan, Jonathan Auxier, Raina Telgemeyer, Marissa Meyer, and also just finished the Diary of Anne Frank. So why all the hate?
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 10:21 AM on May 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's not really a discussion about kids, Ben Trismegistus. It's a discussion about adults who read kids' books. It's a continuation of this discussion. It's fairly tedious, but we don't seem to be able to discuss kids' books without talking about it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:07 AM on May 11, 2015


I have an actual 12-year-old right now who is a devourer of books, and surely could handle any adult book I put in his hands. But I don't really want him reading Stephen King or Dune right now, and

Do you "police" what he reads?

I'm not sure how I'd walk that minefield. My parents weren't big readers, so as far as I can recall they never paid any attention to what I was reading (which, at 12 was Dune, Asimov's Robot series and Thomas Covenant), but TV.

As a kid I found Covenant insufferable, and the Robot series too detectivey and I moved on. Dune I loved, but I am sure I will read it as an adult and find so much I missed as a kid.
posted by Mezentian at 4:41 AM on May 12, 2015


I'll stand by my belief that these age categories are incredibly diverse and that there really is something within MG or YA out there for pretty much everybody as long as readers are open to reading about kids. Many grown-ups aren't, and that sucks and is sad.

I respectfully disagree. There is no shortage of kids in the adult-genre books that I read. Heck, the first third (?) of The Goldfinch was written from a teen's perspective. But my choosing not to read MG/YA for pleasure* is no more sad than if I choose not to read books about military history or books about dogs that end up dying or books written by bloggers.

*Other than my yearly re-read of Little Women at Christmas.
posted by kimberussell at 7:33 AM on May 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Everybody, regardless of age, can choose to read anything, regardless of what reading level it is. Full stop.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:35 AM on May 13, 2015


I've tried to write several comments for this thread, but they got too long. The bits I'd feel remiss in not posting at all (which will be somewhat non sequiteur without the context, but never mind):
  1. I've worked in Children's Books for the last twenty-five years, and sometimes I forget they're actually for small children. The picture book is an astonishingly concise literary form, a novel compressed into a sonnet, but with enough space to allow the illustrator something to add.
  2. One of my favourite television series of the last ten years or so is In the Night Garden.
  3. Although I haven't got on with Patrick Ness's books myself, it appears that the new one is very good indeed. I love the premise, and someone in the know said it was the funniest thing he'd ever written. I suggested that wasn't a terribly high bar, but apparently it's at least as funny as the funny short stories he'd written for adults.
  4. I'd like to recommend a couple of books by my friend Viv Schwarz: her graphic novel The Sleepwalkers and a picture book she illustrated recently called I Am Henry Finch.
posted by Grangousier at 1:32 PM on May 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


After a couple of days mulling I do have more bullet points, perhaps more contentious:
  • There is a distinction between saying "adults can read and enjoy books written for children and young people" and "adults ought to read and enjoy books written for children and young people ". I would wholeheartedly agree with the former sentiment and feel and express enormous scepticism for the latter.
  • The distinction between books written for a general adult audience and those written for an audience of children and young people is at least significant.
  • A reader comes to a text with a specific world view. I'd suggest that the world view of a child reader is different from that of an adult reader of children's books - we have a model of the world that is far larger than the child reader for whom the world of the novel is constructed: we read the novel in a fundamentally different way, and the pleasures we describe in reading children's literature are not simple and innocent; They're not problematic, per se, but they are complex.
  • Conversely, child readers' exposure to "suitable" novels written for an adult world view, is a part of the way children learn about that world (in the past, though it's probably more the role of television today). The example I thought of is Lord of the Flies, which was written with the (perhaps optimistic) expectation that the reader would already have internalised the themes of the novel, and would bring that understanding to the reading in which the innocent characters act out arguments surrounding them. When I was at school, however, the novel was used to introduce those themes to us. But it seemed to come from another place than the books we were reading at the same time that came from within the world view of children's books.
  • Though that novel did have an influence on the ways novels were written for young people.
  • "Suitable" in scare quotes in the paragraph before last seems to boil down to "with no sex in". That didn't stop us seeking Unsuitable books out on our days off, but I'm not sure what we got out of them other than a complete misunderstanding of the form and mechanics of human sexuality.
  • The snarkish line that popped into my head regarding that is: Lord of the Flies isn't a children's book in the same way that The Spire isn't a book for stonemasons and The Inheritors isn't aimed at protohumans.
  • With the proviso that obviously the chances of medieval stonemasons and neanderthals reading mid-twentieth century novels are much slimmer than those of a child reading Lord of the Flies.
Sorry, that seems to be the only way I can do it. However hard I try, I can't seem to join them together into anything coherent.
posted by Grangousier at 2:23 AM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


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