Saturday, July 16, 2011

YA: Romancing the Misery

Last May, at the Book Expo here in NY, I was struck by Sarah Dessen's frank admission (and her free whoopie pies!) about becoming the author of Young Adult books by accident.  It seems that when she wrote her first book, she the audience she intended to address was adult, meaning, "grown up," not teens.  I have never read a book by Ms. Dessen (though she was a delightful and engaging speaker), but I was amused by her admission.  And it got me wondering, just what is a YA book?  After looking around the expo, booklists, and library, I came to the shocking conclusion:  YA books, for the most part, were books I didn't want my YAs reading.  Self indulgent books about drugs, sex, suicide, and every dark thing you can imagine...

Yet, books that deal with all of these matters are not new; "adult" books on these themes have existed since...well, earliest writings, including the Bible.  But there is a curious crudeness about the genre.  These books seem to, with rare exception, hit one over the head bluntly with bitter misery.  Do they enlighten?  Do they enrich the YA's life?  Or do they just bog teens down in a morass of murky, muddy self pity?

When I began this post several weeks ago, I anticipated reading a few of the worst titles in the genre.  Since then, this article and this follow-up  in the Wall Street Journal and Erin Manning's terrific take (start here) on YA have made my thoughts rather a perfunctory addition to the chatter.

Read all the above, but read this article, as well, on a book about teen suicide that "saves lives" (how does one quantify that assertion?).  A follow-up interview with the author of that book is here.  I had to laugh as he accused Gurdon (the WSJ book reviewer):  "...the tone in her article was very confrontational..."  Perhaps he should write a YA book about how to deal with people who disagree with you.

Debate is welcome here, as always.

1 comment:

Chari said...

before I got to the second part of your post...I was thinking how even a long time ago those themes were present......but gave it more thought and realized that my older kids read these themes from times past, and it just is much easier to swallow when it takes place a long time ago. And, the consequences for such actions are usually not rewarded.....just rambling during my lunch break....and NOT proofreading :)