More Rational Thoughts on YA

This morning I read the reaction piece in the Atlantic, looking at how NPR’s Best YA of All Times list, among other things, skewed heavily female, in terms of the authors represented and the books on the list. It led to a minor Twitter freakout on my part. I’m now trying to figure out why something that ultimately defended YA got me so hot under the collar. I think I’ve figured it out. 

I used to be a journalist, so I understand the propensity to take a study or survey and find the angle for some kind of trend piece. Lord knows I’ve done it myself so many times.

I guess I’m just sick and tired of the following trend piece:


Again, I understand that for every trend, there is a trend piece to analyze the trend. And I’ve been on the receiving end of those trend pieces (TEENS LIKE DARK YA, BUT IN A GOOD WAY!) I’m just over it.  In part because it gives rise to sentences like this one:

Plenty of theories have been floated to explain YA’s surge, particularly among adult readers. Some attribute it to ingenious marketing or to the childlike simplicity of the plots, suggesting that the craze is a distressing symptom of a reading public congenitally adverse to nuance

In all fairness, the article, which was more about the gender of authors than the potential crapiness of YA, then went on to defend the genre, by concluding that people ready YA because:

The stories and the genre itself represent a world of limitless potential…

Ultimately concluding that

The best young-adult books provide a portal to characters and perspectives that simply aren’t as readily available on the adult reading lists.

A line that normally would have me throwing flowers in the streets.

But I wasn’t throwing flowers. I was banging my head against the wall. Because the article was about the number of women on the best-of list, it also looked at the sexism elsewhere in the adult literary world. Which I appreciated.

One of the things YA gets right is the playing field is so much more level. Women and men are well represented on both the bestseller lists and on the awards lists. This is in vast contrast to the adult world, where Vida, Women in Literary Arts, repeatedly tallies numbers that show men receive and write a disproportionate number of book reviews. Men also receive the lion’s share of awards.

I appreciate anything that highlights how YA gets this right. Here’s the problem, though, and where I got upset. By mixing issues, bringing up the gender divide, and then in the same breath questioning the legitimacy of YA, the takeaway is this: Ladies are writing a lot of the popular YA. By the way, does YA suck your brain cells? Does its popularity signal the end of the cerebral world?  Even if the answer is no—a resounding no—asking those questions together marginalizes both YA and the women who write (and read) it.

Is it just me? Am I PMSing?

It just seems to be that as far as a trend piece goes, the NPR list raised a lot of interesting points. Maybe the question should’ve been, Why is the YA world more equitable? (Cough, cough, librarians!) Or perhaps something nothing to do with gender at all.  Why are so many of the books on the best-of list so recent? The article might’ve looked at how open-minded NPR is about YA, not ghettoizing it but broadening the definition, to include Tolkien, Salinger, Dodie Smith, authors who wrote before YA was a category but whose work  fits nonetheless. 

As for the eternal question as to why people are reading YA, it’s like asking why people drink water. The answers are limitless: For a dewey complexion, to diet, to get rid of a UTI. But generally speaking, most people drink water because they are thirsty.

Why do people read YA books?

Because they are good, in the myriad subjective definitions of what good means.