Point/Counterpoint: the case for and against young adult science fiction

Over on IO9, a pair of essays by Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz presenting the case for and against writing young adult science fiction:
It's great news that young people are getting exposed to SF at an impressionable age, without apparently feeling any particular stigma about it. And yes, a lot of those people will eventually come to view SF as "kid stuff" and stop reading when they reach adulthood. But if even 20 percent of those readers keep reading SF after they turn 18, that guarantees a sizeable readership for SF in decades to come.

The other great thing about YA science fiction is that people come to writing it from all sorts of angles. Some YA authors write non-speculative YA books and then drift into writing books with science-fictional plots.

...

What I'm trying to say is that labeling novels YA in the hope that that will make them "mainstream" may actually backfire. You will certainly alienate possible adult readers, who feel vaguely nasty for cozying up with a genre aimed at teens. And I believe in the end you will lose teen readers, who are exactly the sorts of people who dislike being told that their youth bars them from understanding adult novels. What self-respecting 15-year-old wants to read "young adult" fiction when she could be reading stuff actually written for adults?

The beauty of science fiction is that our hypothetical 15-year-old can read adult fiction and enjoy it just as much as adults do. Not because scifi is simplistic, but because it usually operates on multiple levels: One level is devoted to an adventurous plot, and the other seethes with social subtext and commentary. The most successful scifi novels should work as entertainment for people of any age, and can suggest deeper ideas to people who have been on Earth long enough to want a little contemplation with their space battles.

Young Adult Books Will Save Science Fiction, Stop Writing Young Adult Science Fiction

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  1. I strenuously disagree with the Ms. Newitz’s argument. First and foremost, YA fiction is not watered down adult fiction. I’d put “How I Live Now” or “Be More Chill” or “Feed” or “Octavian Nothing” on par with any adult fiction I’ve read. Outside the sci-fi/fantasy realm, books like “Playing in Traffic”, “Crank”, “Cut” and “Monster” deal head on with heavy material and don’t blink or shy away from intense situations.

    I’m a librarian who works extensively with teens. They love having fiction that addresses characters who are their age, dealing with issues they can relate to. Even fantastical or science fiction situations, teens love being able to identify with the characters.

    Most of all, the notion that being encouraged to read YA books is some kind of impediment to reading more adult literature is just not true at all. Strong readers will follow their interests and curiosities regardless of whether the book is aimed at 15 year olds or fifty year olds. The point of YA fiction is to offer books that specifically address teen issues, not hobble them or age-band.

    As for older readers feeling weird about reading YA, again, not the case at all. Many current college students grew up on Harry Potter and have moved to “Twilight” or “Eragon” series. Parents of teens love reading YA fiction with their kids, because they can both get something out of the story.

    YA fiction also appeals to readers who might associate “adult literature” with homework. Having a kind of fiction that is written to their bailiwick can reach reluctant readers. I’ve seen kids who “hate reading” get into series like Scott Westerfield’s “Uglies/Pretties” and “Twilight” and just set off running.

    I know it’s an all in good fun debate, but having seen the powerful impact young adult literature can have on teens, well, to me, it’s a bit like having a point/counterpoint on gravity.

  2. It seems I must be in something of a contrary mood, because I have to disagree with both Ms. Newitz and (to a certain extent) the comment posted by mgfarrelly. I might not be a librarian or someone who frequently puts forth their thoughts for widespread dissemination on the internet, but I’m a 19 year old science fiction reader.

    Ms. Newitz feels that YA Science Fiction is perceived as telling teens that they can’t comprehend adult SF, and mgfarrelly states that “YA fiction is not watered down adult fiction.” Speaking from the perspective of someone who was relatively recently a member of the “young adult” target audience, I have to say that it is watered down, but not in a way that sends the message that the adult concepts are beyond the teen readers.

    Expounding upon the state of YA SF is leaving me with two distinct (though overlapping) thoughts on the differences between adult and young adult SF. The first being that YA SF is the instant gratification form of science fiction. The second being that it’s basically what you’d get if you told Dan Brown to write a science fiction novel with a teen protagonist. YA SF frequently makes for very smooth reading, offering little interruption (from either stop-and-think moments or even word choice) from barreling ahead straight through to the conclusion. At other times it manages to be more thoughtful (Ms. Newitz’s “social subtext and commentary”), albeit with word choices still designed to avoid tripping anyone up, yet does so with a much less elaborate plot.

    Either way, YA SF is designed to avoid readers needing patience at the start of a book. Unlike many truly excellent ‘adult’ science fiction novels I’ve read, I don’t expect to see many YA SF books where it takes 200 pages to get interesting.

    There’s a completely different and as-of-yet untouched aspect of the discussion at hand. I was about 12 when, having loved a number of Piers Anthony’s Xanth books, I picked up on of his Bio of a Space Tyrant books. Suffice it to say that I normally have little patience with anyone who brings up “family values” in any political conversation, but I’ll probably find them a bit less annoying the day that books in the same vein as the BoaST books (65% compelling SF story, 35% written pornography) get turned into young adult reading. It’s a very small subset of SF books, but as I’ve discovered a few too many times, once you’ve read many of the must-reads of the SF genre you run the risk of occasionally finding, entirely unexpectedly, books that your average parent wouldn’t be comfortable with their “young adult” reading.

    To wrap this (overly-)lengthy post up, I’ll make it clear that I think YA SF has it’s place. Much like a Dan Brown novel, I’d pick some of it up when sick or not feeling well and I just wanted a fun and effortless read. Of course, the next day I’d go back to something like Dune or A Canticle For Leibowitz. Of course, like Dan Brown’s novels, I agree with mgfarrelly that these books tend to have the beneficial effects of drawing in more infrequent readers.

  3. A smart 15 year old is perfectly capable of understanding the nuances of literature for adults.
    By then, in my NYC public school education (1950’s-1960’s), I had read Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, Milton’s “Paradise
    Lost”, Dryden’s “The Fairy Queen”, Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice” in school assignments.

    I had been reading Asimov and Clark and Sturgeon and Bellamy and Orwell etc., since the ripe old age
    of EIGHT.

    Thank God, I avoided the “Children’s Ghetto”
    of the public library. Thank God for cheap used paperbacks. Anyone remember Ace Doubles, for example? Thank God for used bookstores.

    One reason that so many of our present generation of
    young people are intellectual cripples is that they are being given “YA” drivel to read and not the
    great books of literature–many of which are
    “SCIENCE FICTION”.

  4. The comparison to Dan Brown is unfair. YA SF succeeds on its own terms. I somehow missed John Christopher’s Tripods series until last year (I’m now 38), but it’s a great read that brings up plenty of interesting issues about independence and free will. A more simply told tale than “adult” SF, but no less worth a read.

  5. YA SF isn’t less complex or less deep or simplified. It’s just a lot more likely to have a plot, in which interesting things occur. Some people like that, and that group includes most YA readers. So saying that YA SF shouldn’t exist is either saying that more experimental plotless books shouldn’t exist in SF, or that YA and other readers don’t deserve to have books that appeal to them. I think either would be a shame.

  6. I’m an adult who loves YA speculative fiction, my recent favourite read being Scott Westerfeldt’s Uglies series. I heard a great review of the trilogy (now a quad) on a radio panel and thought it would be something that I could read with my 12-year-old daughter.

    like GHST…, I loved the “adult” Piers Anthony (and Heinlein and Asimov et al) at 12 – age appropriate or not – but I’m thrilled to have discovered the next generation of YA-SA writers now that I’m reading along with my kids. at least the scenes that deal with sexual awakening aren’t the creepy R Shea / R Anton-Wilson-esque male-dom-fantasy soft porn that I had to navigate at age 12 in the late ’70’s.

    the YA titles aren’t “soft” reads – they’re quick reads. they still present challenging ideas, but in a concentrated form – there’s nothing wrong with that. read Uglies / Pretties / Specials / Extras for yourself and see.

  7. oops – just clicked through to io9 and saw that Uglies is being credited as “saving” SF – see? it’s what I’ve been saying all along!

  8. I must agree with Newitz. Not only in principle, then at least in experience. As a teenager I don’t recall ever really reading YA books. I remember entering the sixth grade and at some point early on finding out that Jurassic Park was a book and quickly needing to digest it. I went from the children’s section to the adult section in no time flat.

    As a matter of course, the teachers I had rarely showed us Young Adult fiction, in fact, the only book that comes to mind is I Am The Cheese by Robert Cormier. What I DO recall was falling in love with classic adult SF at grade seven. Books like I, Robot and The Illustrated Man . These were the kind of stories that got deeply got me into SF and has kept my love of it to this day.

    I also explicitly recall seeing the Young Adult section and very consciously staying away from it. This is something that shames me today, but as a kid, i thought: Why go backwards? My biggest shame is getting a gift of harry potter and laughing it off. I only started voraciously reading the books once I saw the movie.

    All in all, in my personal experience, having a young adult section has only made me miss out on what could’ve been highly enjoyable books.

  9. @ghstomahawks:

    You make some really excellent points, especially about readability and quickness with which YA books hook their readers.

    One thing that’s been a revelation to me in my career is how the right book finds the right kids and you can just see the light go on. Good YA fiction has been that book, in my experience, time and again.

    But beyond the readability and reluctant reader angle, I think YA fiction can be a lot gutsier than adult fiction. Not to brown-nose our host, but “Little Brother” works better aimed at teens as a wonderful piece of DIY sedition (the good kind) than I think it would with “adult” characters. There are YA books that play with form (“TTYL” is all in IM conversations) and expound on metaphysics while telling a good yarn, such as Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief” where Death himself narrates a story set in the Holocaust.

    When I read some of the kind of dull “literati” adult fiction, or look to the wall James Patterson best sellers or see adults coming in stuck in a genre rut, I’m really excited that young adults have such a wide and wild range of fiction that’s fitted just for them. Gives me hope that they’ll grow up and make wonderful and weird stories of their own!

  10. I don’t remember reading any YA fiction when I was a kid. Maybe I’m too old?

    I find the arguments kind of ridiculous.

    1. “YA fiction isn’t any less than adult fiction, and can and should be read by adults on the same terms.” Then why is it categorized as YA in the first place? For that matter, how? How can you even tell what’s YA and what isn’t if it has the same quality, maturity, intensity, and depth as adult fiction as claimed here?

    2. “YA is really important, we need it to draw in kids who wouldn’t otherwise read”. How does that work, if it’s on the same level as adult fiction (back to point 1)?

    You can’t have it both ways. YA books are, by definition, books for kids. Quit trying to make it something it’s not.

    Why is there even a category called Young Adult if you want it to be everything an adult novel is? I think even saying “adult novel” is ridiculous, it’s just a novel. Is Tom Sawyer a YA novel? Maybe I’m not understanding the point, is any book with a teen separated and called YA? Why, because we don’t want teens to feel like they’re part of the bigger world?

    bb

  11. @Boingx:
    I’m riding a reference desk this very morning, so I’m happy to answer your points. Which are actually questions I get pretty often about YA fiction from parents and adults.

    1: Then why is it categorized as YA in the first place? For that matter, how? How can you even tell what’s YA and what isn’t if it has the same quality, maturity, intensity, and depth as adult fiction as claimed here?

    The difference is sometimes length, and as what pointed out upthread, the speed of the hook is often greater. There are plenty of YA books that would have worked completely as adult books in terms of subject matter, intensity and depth. “The Book Thief” I just mentioned stands on par with any adult novel I’ve read in years. I thought “Hero” by Perry Moore was a great deal more intense and sharply written than other books aimed at adults in the ‘deconstructing superheroes’ vein. The difference between what is YA and what is adult often boils down to packaging, editorial decisions and intent of the author. Joyce Carol Oates once quipped that she “watered down” her young adult fiction. Having read some of her books for teens, it shows.

    2:”YA is really important, we need it to draw in kids who wouldn’t otherwise read”. How does that work, if it’s on the same level as adult fiction (back to point 1)?

    Teens like immersion, and nothing is more immersive than identifying with the characters. You mention Tom Sawyer, which is a classic, but to a kid living in the 21st century it’s a bit hard to identify with the rural south of the 1800’s as written in 1876. Not knocking the book, but finding fiction that speaks to you, to your life, that grabs you as you are now, as your life is now by authors speaking your language (many YA authors are young people themselves) it can really make a difference.

    I’d never argue that teens can’t start in on “adult fiction” from an early age. I read “Animal Farm” in 5th grade and was off to the races. But books aren’t just about one person’s experience, the range and depth of readers is astounding. Book snobbery is tiresome (not accusing you, just speaking from experience) and I’ve always taken pains not to look down my nose at books that work for one person but not for me. For instance, I simply can’t get Fantasy at all, but I’ve been a Tolkein and Harry Potter pusher for years.

    You can’t have it both ways. YA books are, by definition, books for kids. Quit trying to make it something it’s not.

    I’d like to challenge you to pick up a book like “MEMOIRS OF A TEENAGE AMNESIAC” or “The Burn Journals” or “After”, read them and see if you still think they’re just “books for kids”. YA fiction is a weird and shifting space. It’s not easy to say “oh, it’s for kids” after reading some of these very potent books that will hook in teen readers and still stand a great writing.

    Why, because we don’t want teens to feel like they’re part of the bigger world?

    Absolutely not! The opposite is true. Good YA fiction is expansive, shows off new points of view, opens teen readers up to new experiences and raises challenging issues. I’ll leave you with this one. “47” by Walter Mosley. It’s set in slavery-era Georgia and focuses on a young slave named “47” who encounters an alien being named “Tall John” who changes his life in profound ways. “47” is brutal in it’s depiction of slavery, immediate in it’s language and deep in it’s mythology (Tall john is steeped in the slave myth of John the Conquerer) as much as any adult science fiction novel. But it speaks with a clear voice to young adults in a way, especially Black teens. It’s a book I’ve seen as a game-changer for more than one teenager, and even a couple adults.

    http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6253629.html

  12. I think that this is a great example of ending up disagreeing with a position that I ostensibly agree with, because of how poorly it is written. Ironic that its a post about “nerd lit.” Aren’t nerds supposed to be smart?
    In “Stop Writing Young Adult Science Fiction,” the author really cripples himself by creating several analogies that are pretty clearly misnomers. For example, the connection drawn between pederasty and enjoyment of YA Scifi is specious to me. Being a) an adult, b) someone that has in recent years enjoyed several YA scifi books and c) definitely not a pedophile (internet or otherwise) I find his line of reasoning a bit insulting.
    While a few worthwhile points about not underestimating the quality of readership of teens and tweens are made, the essay comes across as generally much weaker than its counter-point.

  13. Actually, ”Tom Sawyer” is YA, but ”Huckleberry Finn” is not. The difference is obvious in the reading. Twain intended it to be that way, of course, but not at first; he suspended writing the latter for a few years when it started shading into a darker mood. It is the world’s good fortune that he took it up again.

    I remember tons of YA fiction when I was a boy, and I considered ALL science fiction and fantasy to be that.

  14. I am just confused by this supposed controversy. Why do the authors of this article presume that readers choose what to read on any basis other than whether or not they think they will enjoy it? And who are they, anyway? Not science fiction authors, as far as I know.

    I’m an avid adult reader of science fiction, and I *loved* kids fiction when I was a kid. Danny Dunn, Tom Swift, the Mushroom Planet (!) books, etc. The jump from those books to adult science fiction was a pretty harsh one, though – there was no middle ground that I can remember. YA fills that gap.

    Please, keep writing YA.

  15. #10 mgfarrelly:

    You mention Tom Sawyer, which is a classic, but to a kid living in the 21st century it’s a bit hard to identify with the rural south of the 1800’s as written in 1876.

    Wasn’t it just as hard in the 1950s and 60s, when most of us read it and loved it?

    ”… finding fiction that speaks to you, to your life, that grabs you as you are now, as your life is now by authors speaking your language … it can really make a difference.

    When I was a kid that’s the last thing I wanted. I wanted cowboys, explorers, pirates, spacemen, soldiers, werewolves, vampires, anything but what I was. Have kids changed so much?

    Never read or write about what you know. At best you’ll just be a reporter; at worst you’ll never learn anything.

    Not that I’ve learned all that much….

  16. I read lots of Juvenile fiction and adult fiction as a kid. I didn’t always recognize the difference, not realizing that Starship Troopers wasn’t really one of Heinlein’s kid books. But I generally steered clear of the “Teen” section, which was filed with an annoying collection of books about growing up or teenage angst.

    I like the kids books for their freedom and imagination. I loath certain “teen” books for the narrowness of the themes and format. Eragon? Fun. The Golden Compass? Yes, Yes, Yes. Johny and the Bomb? Too dumbed down. Feed? Blech… teen dreck.

    If people are going to write for kids and teens I wish they would refrain from treating them like they are idiots who are obsessed with angst. And I wish people wouldn’t assume that just because a book is about kids it is for kids (Lord of the Flies Comes to mind) nor the contrary, they should not assume that just because a book doesn’t have kids in it that it is not for kids.

  17. @Bevatron Repairman:
    The comparision to Dan Brown was just a reference to the way his books seem to be be so excellent at drawing people in and then having the entire book flowing from one thing to another rapidly, until you reach the climax. It’s not a judgment of value so much as similar styles. While I can’t truly agree with the way this is said, it was expressing a thought similar to CNOOCY’s comment “It’s just a lot more likely to have a plot.”

    @mgfarrelly: “I think YA fiction can be a lot gutsier than adult fiction”

    Honestly, I have to agree with you there. Of course, the fact that these “young adults” are far more used to reevaluating their views, and don’t have such deeply ingrained taboos has long meant that children and teenagers can probably deal with less beating around the bush (of course it’s also been attributed to them largely missing subtlety).

    On the other hand, far too much of the “gutsy” YA fiction isn’t YA SF. Of course there are some obvious examples within the SF genre, some of which have been mentioned already. However, where Ms. Newitz views the “social subtext and commentary” as a key aspect of what SF is, and what it has over other genres … YA SF far too frequently misses even in comparison to much of the rest of YA fiction.

  18. @buddy66:

    “‘You mention Tom Sawyer, which is a classic, but to a kid living in the 21st century it’s a bit hard to identify with the rural south of the 1800’s as written in 1876.’

    Wasn’t it just as hard in the 1950s and 60s, when most of us read it and loved it?”

    No, not really. The world has changed in the past 50 years. In 2058 it’ll be even harder for kids to connect with a world in which (no pun intended) you aren’t constantly connected.

  19. From the “against” column:
    “it’s hard to deny your knee-jerk response that there’s something slightly distasteful and pedophilic about an adult reading stories aimed at people under the age of 18”

    I find it a bit depressing that anyone actually thinks this way.

  20. #17 ghstomahawks:

    The world has changed in the past 50 years. In 2058 it’ll be even harder for kids to connect with a world in which (no pun intended) you aren’t constantly connected.

    Think about it. No more Sword and Sorcery? No magic kingdoms? No adventures in Time? What are those kids going to be? A new species? Androids? You sell humanity short if you think that a child’s imagination can be trammeled. The whole point of fiction is to be in another world.

    The world hasn’t changed that much in fifty years. I know. It’s just gotten faster. In 2058 it will be . . . slower. Get ready.

  21. My Dear Lucy,

    I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again…

    – From C.S. Lewis’s dedication of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

    Great books offer a feast of ideas and lessons. At any given age, you take in only the ones that you can digest. As you grow older, you find new dishes awaiting your more worldly and sophisticated palate.

  22. @buddy66:

    Think about it. You yourself admitted it was hard to identify with the character in the ’50s and ’60s. Why would that be, because you aren’t in the rural south living in the early 1800s? It’s hard to imagine that many/most of the factors distancing people from Twain’s characters in the ’50s and ’60s haven’t become more pronounced since then, and won’t be more pronounced in 50 years.

    None of that makes people androids, any new species, or even lacking imagination. It just means that yes, it will be a little bit harder. I imagine you had an easier time identifying with Tom Sawyer than you would have had about a caveman child. The exaggeration there is ridiculous (and intentional), but the point remains the same. Being more difficult makes it neither impossible, nor a disability.

    For that matter Sword and Sorcery has always been easier to connect with, as it was never supposed to be “in the real world”. Knowing something is “pretend” makes it that much easier. Alas, I digress.

    “The world hasn’t changed that much in fifty years.”

    Well, I already stated that I’m 19, so it’d be tough to debate that one with you. However, the way that people communicate with each other has changed more in the last 20 years than it had, at the very least, since the invention of the telephone. While that doesn’t change any basics truths about humanity, I’m sure it’ll result in the children being born today having very different views than either of us, on a wide range of issues.

  23. HIM: ”You mention Tom Sawyer, which is a classic, but to a kid living in the 21st century it’s a bit hard to identify with the rural south of the 1800’s as written in 1876.”

    ME: ”Wasn’t it just as hard in the 1950s and 60s, when most of us read it and loved it?”

    YOU: ”You yourself admitted it was hard to identify with the character in the ’50s and ’60s.”

    Actually I didn’t. I’m saying that it is no harder today than it ever was. I had no trouble identifying with that silly but charming little boy; I was just as silly, but without the charm, I’m afraid.

    I missed where you said you were 19. What a promising age. Try ”Huckleberry Finn,” if you haven’t already; it’s much better.

    I said things got faster. Medicine got better. Girls got prettier. But that’s about it. People are still the same.

    Good luck to you on your journey. I got a feeling you’ll do okay.

  24. When I was a kid that’s the last thing I wanted. I wanted cowboys, explorers, pirates, spacemen, soldiers, werewolves, vampires, anything but what I was. Have kids changed so much?

    I’m in my 20’s, so I can’t speak for the past 50 odd years, but I see a great number of kids who want to read stories with people their own age, a little younger or older, whom they can identify with. They want teen spacemen (“Host”) Teen Soldiers (“Sunrise Over Fallujah” by Walter Dean Myers) Teen Werewolves and Vampires (“Twilight” and a host of others) who can speak to them directly.

    I’m not going to run down Mark Twain, I think young people should read him (though I think his short work is better personally) but when it comes to connecting with a work Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer are not the first or best books on the shelf that I’d hand a young adult. Not to mention the fact that teens are acutely allergic to books they see as “school books” something that Twain’s work has gained the patina of, sadly.

  25. For the most part teens in my library who are reading science fiction are automatically gravitating toward the “adult” books and not those in the YA collection. The continuing popularity of Ender’s Game, Laurel K. Hamilton, and Neil Gaiman in our adult collection far outweighs the average YA SF circulation. I think that Stephanie Meyer’s books are gradually making it “okay” for adults to read kids books whether they’re labeled “Young Adult” or “Juvenile”.

    I’ve read kids books that are significantly better than a lot of adult books that are being published today.

  26. Buddy66
    The world has really changed very little since the 1950’s. So, you have texting and cellphones and the internet–these are not such big changes.

    In fact, you might be interested to know that
    I had walkie talkies, CB radios, Amateur Radio
    ( complete with teletype) in the 1950’s and 1960’s and that was almost the same.

    In fact, the teletype predates the telephone–and like the teleautograph and the telegram and the telegraph–are 19th century inventions.
    Even the telegraph was predated by the heliostat
    –which linked Europe together by an “optical” internet in the 18th century.

    In the 1950’s business used the Telex–which was essentially email. In the 1960’s my college had the ARPA net–which was essentially the internet.
    There were even people who had telephones in their
    cars.

    And we had guided missiles, and atomic energy and satellites, and space travel–and tv–we weren’t living lives so very different from today. In fact, that was the one thing that science fiction
    ( except for ” The Seventh Victim” by Robert Sheckley) missed. We were expecting either a
    primitive post nuclear war world, or a world far more technically advanced than the current one–one with cities on mars etc.

    In fact, the main change since then has been the dumbing down of America–people used to read a lot more and a lot better–because they didn’t read
    mass produced pap such as teen literature.

    And, it is a sad world, if the children of today have trouble relating to the world of cavechildren. I read quite a few rather wonderful books about cavemen etc., when I was a young child.
    And, in more recent times, many children that I knew were quite wrapped uo in “The Clan of the Cave Bear” series–for adults.

    We also enjoyed “Treasure Island” about pirates,
    and novels about primitive cultures and ancient
    Egypt and Rome etc. These were enjoyed in elementary school.

    The last thing on earth I wanted was a book about a girl just like me, in a place and time just like mine. I would have been BORED to tears.

    By the way, ” Tom Sawyer” and “Huck Finn” were great, just because they allowed me to imagine being a BOY, in the 19th century, in a rural place. So was ” The Prince and the Pauper” set
    in England hundreds of years ago. Even better, was
    ” The Canterbury Tales” set in medieval England.

  27. Yes, I know. My points exactly. Maybe you’ve got me mixed up with somebody else. 1950—I remember it well.

  28. Like so many of the older readers I grew up reading classic SF in grade school. I equated YA as shallow and condescending. However, now I frequently prefer YA novels, but I feel slightly uncomfortable browsing in the teen section. I wish it was not separate. The only good I can see in labeling something YA is to avoid the creepy soft porn squeeziecat mentioned or the frankly boring, self indulgent novels too often found in the adult section.

  29. I certainly won’t disagree with the aggregate spirit of MGFARRELLY’s comments: I have repeatedly seen the positive impact of YA fiction on teens. If they get hooked up with the right book (or series), off they go. But a statement like “I think YA fiction can be a lot gutsier than adult fiction” is a bit much. Seriously? What sort of adult fiction are you reading?

    When I was 12, my father told me I could read any book he had: The first one I took was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. That was the end of proto-YA fiction for me. There was too much else out there, as there is today.

  30. I’ve read science fiction and fantasy for most of my life. I like a layered, well-written upper-end YA. Thanks to the internet, for the last year or so, I’ve been reading Scalzi’s website and the Nielson Haydens’ Making Light and following their links. This most recent set of point, counterpoint crystallizes what I’ve been thinking lately. SF is great. There are some great people in the field. The SF community as a whole? Disappointingly stupid.

  31. Fascinating discussion – and one that is extremely on point with research that I hope to be doing in grad school.

    Had to sign up for account just to be able to comment … now I shall have to explore further.

  32. But a statement like “I think YA fiction can be a lot gutsier than adult fiction” is a bit much. Seriously? What sort of adult fiction are you reading?

    I’ll stick to my guns on that one actually. Books like “Luna”, about a transgendered young boy and his sister, or “Under the Wolf, Under the Dog” about a young man confined to a mental hospital trying to understand why he needs to be there, or even something like “Cathy’s book” which was a sort of alternate reality game for teens, all approached topics regarding teens like sex, mental illness and relationships with more gumption than many adult novels dare.

    The biggest strength of good YA fiction, as I see it, is that is doesn’t treat teens as little kids or pretend that their emotions are just trial-size versions of the adult kind. Heartbreak at 17 is real heartbreak. The fear of rejection, of madness or humiliation at 14 is the same fear a 50-something person can fear, just different nuances. Judy Blume’s “Forever” still gets challenged and still attracts new readers every year. When “they” want a book banned, it’s definitely worth reading.

    Good YA fiction talks to teens, not at them. That takes guts in an age of almost weekly moral panics regarding young people.

  33. I think I didn’t quite make my point correctly. That’s because I ramble a lot.

    If a particular “young adult” book is judged to be as or more “gutsy”, mature, serious, and readable for adults, then why are you calling it a YA book? That just sounds like a novel to me, one that younger adults might enjoy as well. Why the distinction? There must be a reason that it is not placed with the other “adult” novels. Saying length, or economy of plot doesn’t make any sense to me, no adults like those things? Does that make “The Da Vinci Code” a YA title? I’ve read few books that were more simplistic than that. My guess is that if “The Da Vinci Code” featured younger people as the main characters and was marketed as a YA book there would people here heaping praise on it for it’s depth and seriousness.

    I think my problem probably has more to do with the immaturity of most people (where 40 year olds dress and act like 20 year olds) and the fetishizing of kids (where people use terms like “pre-tween”). Why can’t we just treat young adults like young adults and let them read good (or bad) fiction with the rest of us? Why does everyone have to be divided up and categorized to enhance and explore their “uniqueness”?

    bb

  34. #24 mgfarrelly,

    You’re a good person, and I think your library and your patrons are lucky to have you on the job. I especially like the following compassionate measure of adolescence:

    Heartbreak at 17 is real heartbreak. The fear of rejection, of madness or humiliation at 14 is the same fear a 50-something person can fear. [feel?]

    It’s been true in my long life that the emotional turmoil of youth was seldom matched in later life, either by me or my friends, and that none of us got through it unscathed. Those who make light of those years are either liars or pathologically short on memory. Kids need all the help they can get.

    I’m not going to run down Mark Twain … but when it comes to connecting with a work, Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer are not the first or best books … that I’d hand a young adult.

    That’s okay; Tom is too young for YAs anyway, and we’ll throw Huck at them later in college. I wouldn’t want a maturing adult to miss the opportunity of meeting the first existential hero in American literature, or of pondering the implications of his moral dilemma.

    When “they” want a book banned, it’s definitely worth reading.

    You know of course that the most banned book in American history is none other than … ”Huckleberry Finn.”

  35. I read Ender’s Game the first time when I was 9. It immediately became my favorite book. At the time, I read it completely differently than I do now (at 22), because I was the same age as the kids. It didn’t seem cold or creepy because it was sort of empowering. As I’ve grown up, my reading of the book has changed quite a bit, although it’s still one of my favorites. I think that kids can get a very different view on the stories they read and it’s interesting if you actually listen to what they read in a book rather than just discounting it because they’re young.

    At the same time, I didn’t abandon kids books. I pretty much skipped the YA catagory except for a few books. But the longer “kids” stuff is often really imaginative. I’ve found myself far more inspired by some kids books than a lot of adult books.

    I also think that being exposed to good writing by reading Ender’s Game, Dune, Catch 22, etc at a young age helped my vocabulary and all that good stuff. It also taught me to think about what I was reading much more analytically than any of my English classes did.

  36. @Boingx

    I haven’t read the Da Vinci code (or seen the movie) mainly because I spent my first year out of Library school saying “I’m sorry, we don’t have The Da Vinci Code in, can I place a hold for you?”.

    I’ve said in most of these posts that I’m talking about good YA fiction. Is there bad YA writing? Oh sweet Poseidon YES. That horrid Gossip Girl tv show, started as a book. A series of books. TERRIBLE books. But dwelling on the negative is just a waste of time.

    The bravery of YA books as I see it can be summed up thusly; talking to kids in a voice they connect with about issues that matter to them. A lot of “adult” literature is dismissive or nostalgic about being a teen. YA fiction is more focused on nuance, on the specificity and verisimilitude of being a young adult. It’s not someone rhapsodizing about long lost youth, it’s finding that voice of youth and speaking clearly in it.

    I think my problem probably has more to do with the immaturity of most people (where 40 year olds dress and act like 20 year olds) and the fetishizing of kids (where people use terms like “pre-tween”). Why can’t we just treat young adults like young adults and let them read good (or bad) fiction with the rest of us? Why does everyone have to be divided up and categorized to enhance and explore their “uniqueness”?

    I wish more 40 year olds thought with the elasticity of 20 year olds and more 20 year olds realized the wisdom of 40 year olds. It’s not about drawing lines in the library or bookshop saying “here’s your section, no further out nor in” it’s about writing that speaks to an audience and brings them in.

    Again, I’d really encourage you to read some of the great teen fiction out there and see what I’m talking about. Any of the books I’ve mentioned would be a start (well, not Gossip Girl…oy) or check out http://www.teenreads.com, a great resource for teen lit, reviewed by young adults.

  37. I practically refuse to read any YA SF (although I did read Little Brother), and and leaning towards refusing to read any SF where the main character is a child.

    Please write me more complex, challenging SF with adult themes and language.

  38. …and leaning towards refusing to read any SF where the main character is a child.

    Ender Wiggin? Paul Atreides? Arkady Darrell? I’m so not on the same boat as you.

  39. Ender Wiggin? Paul Atreides? Arkady Darrell? I’m so not on the same boat as you.

    Ender’s Game was fine when I read it when I was 14 – that’s kind of the point. That’s not what I’m looking for anymore.

    1. I enjoyed it when I first read it at 48. I thought that the passage of years is supposed to give us an increased capacity for enjoyment.

  40. C.S. Lewis wrote on this subject (I think it can be found in his “On Criticism”). That with maturity, tastes should broaden, not narrow. And that the books he had really loved when young he still loved through his life.

  41. @mrrileyx

    That’s an interesting, and very limiting, line to draw for yourself. Would you not read “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy because one of the two protangonists is a kid? Or “The Ever-Lasting Story of Nory” or “Catcher in the Rye”?

    An absolute when it comes to fiction is just begging to be broken.

  42. ”Catcher In The Rye” trumps! FTW

    #31 flit:

    Had to sign up for account just to be able to comment … now I shall have to explore further.

    Welcome to bb, where all the posts are interesting and all the comments above average.

  43. Time for some heresy: I don’t think ”Ender’s Game” is all that good. At least from an adult’s point of view. Or, to be precise, from mine.

    There’s something vicariously juvenile about it (although the ending is clever, despite one seeing it coming 50 pages away). I read it as an adult when it first came out, and I had the uneasy feeling that a child’s fantasy/game was being recalled and written in reverie. I remember as a boy playing ”dead-not dead” war games, and fantasizing elaborate scenarios (I think I independently invented rubber bullets!) where nobody got hurt, but where the competition was fiercely competitive. I was, after all, a good little boy and didn’t want to see anyone really get hurt; you know, blood and tears and pain. So reading the book made me feel a bit queasy and embarrassed, as if I were intruding on a little boy’s daydream that went on and on…..

    I wonder if anybody else felt that?

    1. If you saw the whole thing as gay subtext, you might have a different view of it. Buggers! Led by a queen!

  44. The Enderverse books are the biggest collection of closety subtext that I could ever imagine, in this or any other universe or dimension. Who but a closet queer would have such a hissy over gay marriage? And seriously, who else sets all his death scenes in boy’s public toilets?

  45. Man, no wonder I got queasied with ”Ender’s Game.” What a bunch of crazy shit he’s got sloshing around in his head! I just tonight read a couple of his pieces. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to find out he’s one of those wide-stance Craig/Cohn hypocrites. (As Takuan said about another matter, ”Their language gives them away.”) I’m not saying the gay subtext Antinous reads is entirely accurate, but the list of particulars he is drawing up is pretty damning. (Murder in toilets, huh?) Does Card actually think that gay Hollywood is going to bankroll a known homophobe’s movie? His script will never be greenlighted.

    Besides, his call for the overthrow of the government by ANY MEANS NECESSARY is seditious.

  46. One of the Bean books in the Enderverse has a character giving a long, narrative-killing speech about how he’s a homosexual but must live as a heterosexual because homosexuality is a sterile lifestyle with no future. It’s beyond freaky.

  47. Then there’s Songmaster, where the protagonist experiments just once with gay sex and has his sexual nervous system or some such thing blown out so he’s forever impotent. The guy he experiments with is castrated.

  48. Maybe I was just another precocious reader, but I was readying YA science fiction as a child, and by the time that I reached my teens I was reading adult SF pretty much exclusively. I have no idea whether or not my local public library had a YA section, nor did I care, and it certainly didn’t occur to me that a book starring, say, Arkady Darell was meant for grownups.

  49. I’m kind of against the idea of books (or any media, for that matter) targeted at young adults. People, including young adults, like good writing. The protagonist doesn’t need to be an awkward 15 year old. So why not just tell a good story?

  50. YA is a sales tool. That segment of the publishing market has seen its rise and fall and now it’s hot off of a Harry Potter high and this new vampire series for girls. So, you write a YA and tap a market. Maybe it’s easier to write YA because so many sf writers seem to use wish fulfillment as source material. Being young again is a common fantasy.

  51. @55 Jeff:

    YA is WAY more than just HP and the “Twilight” series and has been a growing genre/market/sub-species for years before either author picked up the pen.

    As for “wish fulfillment”, again some of the heavy subject matter these books, many of them award-winning and selling very well, isn’t all “Dandelion Wine”.

    Whenever people say this or that kind of writing is “easy” (Romance, sci-fi, YA) I respond with the following”Writing itself is easy, you just hit the keys and words come out. The trick is getting them in the right order to make a story. And to make that story matter. Not so easy.

  52. Just wait until the current crop of YA books are assigned in school. You will see a precipitous drop in interest.

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