Exploring YA Literature

Just because a book/piece of media was created for young adults does not make it inherently ‘simplistic’ or ‘only for children/young adults’. I like this tweet that I found a little while after our very first class: https://twitter.com/searchq=hemingway%20from%3A_ElizabethMay&src=typd The idea that writing which is simple in terms of vocabulary, sentence structure, etc. equals poor writing and boring story telling is an idea that does not really hold. Here is a perfect example of a ‘simple’ and yet very emotional and thought provoking story: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”- http://dangerousminds.net/comments/ernest_hemingway_and_the_six-word_short_story (It is not fully certain whether or not Hemingway wrote this but it does not take away from the fact that this story is emotional and yet still uses very simplistic language). Part of the problem with this mentality of children’s books and YA literature being ‘simplistic’ in language and story is that it ignores the complexity that many of these stories actually have. These ‘childish’ stories can be very complex and emotional roller-coasters. Many YA books, for example, talk about strong ‘adult’ topics such as death in new and complex ways. For example, I once read a YA book that actually tricked me with a death scene. The character is in a life or death situation but manages to make it out unscathed and the chapter ends. Only, then I turned the page and was met with something along the lines of: ‘That’s what I wish I could say happened. Instead….’. Such a sentence is simply written and yet it drew so much out of me as a reader. Sure, the language in this book was simple but that one sentence really made me stop and stare. (I don’t want to list the book just in case any of you pick it up one day; I’d rather not ruin the surprise). There are also books like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak that use death as a narrator and really deal with very deep issues, emotions, and hard events. Interestingly, as I googled the book to remind myself whether it is ‘classed’ as YA literature a number of forums came up with people arguing that the book should be placed in the Adult section and not the YA one. Here’s one in case you are interested: http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/970064-why-young-adult-fiction-classification Another potential reason that YA literature is labelled as ‘simple and childish’ is based on the supposed notions of YA romance. Now, I have read my fair share of YA books that have the typical mysterious boy or girl that gets together with the main character. However, like any other type of book, YA literature has many books that do not adhere to the usual flow that many other books do. I’ve read YA literature that seemed to be following the typical ‘YA romance’ plot and then got to near the end of the novel and been completely surprised by what actually happened. The two characters never got together and the whole ending was nothing like I had expected. Unfortunately, I think there is a stigma to YA romance in that YA romance is classed as silly, not to be taken with any seriousness or thought, and is thought to be basically all the same. The media’s reaction to the Hunger Games books and movies show the issue of this supposed stigma. As people online have pointed out, our media decided to focus on ‘team Gale or team Peeta’ much like the Capital in the Hunger Games universe focused on the ‘love story’ over the killing of innocent people. Instead of talking about the dark implications of what the story showcases and reflecting about our own society, a lot of the media talked about who they wanted Katniss to end up with. What potentially can happen here is that some will hear so much about ‘Katniss having to choose Gale or Peeta’ that the interest in the main storyline is lost as they do not want to have to read about some ‘silly YA romance’- the stigma that I talked about briefly above. Not, that there is anything wrong with those sorts of books, but when our media and the means by which all YA books are marketed simply focus on that ‘stigma YA romance’ and try to make it the centre of ALL YA books, and always to do with love ‘triangles’ even when it is not, then it can turn potential readers/watchers away from an interesting story and even from the whole section of YA itself. This also does the YA romance books a disservice as potential readers can just dust the books off with thoughts that ‘they are all the same’ and ‘there is nothing interesting about YA romance’. What I am trying to get at here by these examples is that a possible part of the reason that some adults believe that other adults should be ashamed or embarrassed about reading YA or children’s literature is the fact of how a lot of it is marketed and deemed by society. We are often told that we should not be interested in things that are deemed ‘childish’ and are told to grow up. Those who say this really do miss some out on some unique and creative stories. This is not just to do with books but with YA things in general. For example, those who refuse to watch ‘childish’ things miss out on great in-depth, complex, and endearing stories from cartoons like Avatar: The Last Airbender. Sure, it is a goofy show but is also deals with death, isolation, war, family issues, feels of inadequacy and so much more (the artwork is also AMAZING but I digress). The idea of what is ‘childish’ is not a simple matter either. Many would say having pictures in a book means that the book therefore is for children. Shaun Tan’s ‘The Arrival’ very much challenges this idea as it is a picture book with no words. I won’t say too much about this book as I think you should go and have a look at it (our library has it!) and have a see for yourself or you could just look at his website: http://www.shauntan.net/books/the-arrival.html (Would you class this book as just simply ‘childish’ because it is a picture book?) I am sure many of us have read YA literature that we did not like as well as read some that we did; the same being true of Adult literature. What I think is important to remember is that just because one book is labelled YA and the other Adult does not make one superior over the other. Deeming a title not good enough for adults simply because it is in the YA section means that you may miss out a great and interesting story; not that I am saying all YA books are going to be your favourite. It is just like reading any book, sometimes you like it and sometimes you hate it, various factors play into your opinion of it. In all honesty, just read what interests you. – Holly T

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6 thoughts on “Exploring YA Literature

  1. Peyton says:

    If the problem is with labelling and marketing, do you think that classification of books should be removed? Instead of having Young Adult, Adult, and Children sections, it should all be generalized and instead separated be genre (romance, sci-fi, fantasy, etc.)? If these labels (YA, adult, and children) were removed, do you think that people would be able to read whatever they wanted without judgement?

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    • Holly says:

      Your question about whether or not I think we should just completely scrap the ‘age sections’ and instead focus on the genre of the book is a question that I find difficult to answer. Part of me wants to argue yes while another part of me wants to argue no. The part that wants to argue yes would say yes as then books would be judged on their stories and development over their ‘intended’ audience (I think about how people ignore interesting ideas in YA literature over ‘how simplistically it is written’; however, the part that argues no can’t help but wonder about some of the extremely dark and, for lack of a better word, adult themes in some books. Should 8 year olds being reading about explicit abuse? Would they be able to comprehend it and evaluate it appropriately or would it scar them? Or, perhaps I am not giving 8 year olds enough credit? I am not sure and so unfortunately have to leave that statement open as I don’t think there really is a concrete yes or no answer on whether or not we should keep ‘age sections’. Maybe others have information on studies about this sort of idea. I would be quite interested in knowing what such studies say.

      On your last point, I’m not sure that people would. I feel as though people then would just focus simply on the genre that others are reading. Arguably, many already do that now.

      People are going to judge you not matter what you read. Reading/books are just like anything else in life; there are variants and people like and dislike different things. I think the point we need to realise is that’s fine. We need to have more a mentality of: ‘I like this book and dislike that book but hey if you like that book then go right ahead. I would love to have a conversation with you about why I didn’t like it and see why you did.’ Having different views is what makes literature interesting to discuss. If we all agreed not only would we have nothing to discuss but all of our books would be practically the same.

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  2. Danielle Fischer says:

    I would first like to say that I really enjoyed your post and I totally agree with it! I actually didn’t really realize that some of the novels I have been reading for fun are targeted for the YA audience until reading some of the articles for class. For example I recently read “If I Stay” by Gayle Foreman on my Kindle and I actually sobbed through the entire novel. Honestly there was maybe 10 minutes where I could have been in public. This was because I related to it, it got to me on a very realistic level and I didn’t consider it to be childish or small or anything like that. Then I saw it on a list of YA novels and I was thoroughly surprised! I just don’t understand why there needs to be restrictions. As a child I read way above my “intended age level” and as an adult I intend to continue to read whatever the hell I want. If it speaks to you then pick it up, who cares.
    -Danielle Fischer

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    • Holly says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed reading it!
      I really think that your attitude about reading is a great one to have! Reading is just so much more fun when you are reading books that interest you instead of ones you ‘feel’ as though you ‘have to’ or ‘are meant’ to read.

      And on your note about ‘If I Stay’ being a a text that you could relate to, I think that being able to relate to a text is not something that depends on the age of the protagonist or for whom the text is ‘intended’. There are times when you just read something and something happens or something is said and it just, for some reason, resonates with you.

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  3. Alyssa D. says:

    I definitely think that we should be able to read what we want, as your stated in your final sentence, but I think that labelling things is a reality in today’s society that is rather tragic. Your post got me thinking about watching daily talk shows giving advice on how to hide that you are reading “50 Shades of Grey” in public. I did not read the novel, but if I wanted to why should I have to hide it from other people? Why is this something that is being judged. I completely agree with the points that you made.

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    • Holly says:

      I agree with you that labeling things in our society is a tragic thing. That is why, if we are going to be labelled and judged about whatever we do (whether we read this or that) why don’t we just read the things that interest us? There is always going to be someone who thinks that what you are reading is rubbish. Why not read the ‘rubbish’ that interests you?

      Like I said above in one of my previous comments, we are judged by everything we do in our society. So why not get judged for reading books you enjoy? People may go ‘oh my goodness, she is reading such trash’. Alright, at least it is ‘trash’, their words and not yours, that you enjoy. And at least, you are not spending all your time trying to get approval of others by wasting time on books you hate/don’t care for.

      I know this is easier said than done, but really, if we are always going to get judged by whatever we read why not just be ourselves? (I.e. In this case, just read what we want).

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