I think it was only fitting that the great Chris Crutcher would hopefully have the last word in the latest perceived attack on Young Adult literature. As I’ve told Chris on more than one occasion if it wasn’t for him and his groundbreaking books, myself and a whole lot of other authors wouldn’t be able to do what we do. I think I once told him that he took all the heat so the rest of us could curse in our books! You can read his fantastic piece here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-crutcher/young-adult-fiction_b_906398.html The title of his piece (or the Huff post title) is “Let Teens Choose,” which I think we all can wholeheartedly agree with. But what do Teens have to choose from? This leads me to something that’s been on my mind for quite a while.
Sometime while I wasn’t looking, (or maybe I was just speaking/traveling, writing & raising a small child) YA lit exploded. Going from just “experimental” as my publisher called my first novel “Names Will Never Hurt Me“(2004) to as everyday as apple pie and Vampires. (What?) But I digress . . .
There is a huge YA presence on and in every conceivable social media platform, none more vocal and visible than twitter. #yalitchat is HUGE to put it mildly and it’s brainchild Georgia McBride has done an absolutely brilliant job in its creation and evolution. Yalitchat.org really is a one stop site for every possible facet of YA. Check it out here: http://yalitchat.ning.com/ I’ve lurked and from time to time tweeted on the weekly chats, they are for the most part high-spirited, positive and respectful discussions on all things YA . Encompassing wide-ranging topics with guest authors, editors, agents and others from the publishing world.
With this explosion and proliferation of YA in every corner of our online world has the YA community, (for lack of a better moniker) lost sight of its objectivity? I have been at times a critic of the #yasaves twitter hashtag which was born in response to the WSJ article. I felt it went from some solid discussions to an all out flogging and I recently made the comparison to “beating a dead horse with a Louisville Slugger.” What struck me the most about the tweets was an apparent lack of self-criticism. Not so much on the individual level, but as a group, en mass it became an us against them mentality. And if one lurks and listens and reads enough tweets throughout the YA landscape, by and large that is the overall impression you come away with. If you’re not with us you’re against us.
Okay, let me get straight to the point. (Finally you say.) There’s a lot of crappy YA books. There I said it. There’s also a lot of crappy adult books, hip hop, pop, rock music, paintings etc… Publishing is going through growing pains (or dying pains depending on your POV) and it is a fact that there is less and less “literary” YA being procured by publishers. That being said, there is more and more of the same kinds of books being published. (And this goes across multiple subgenres in YA.) Don’t get me wrong, there are still wonderful YA novels being published, but as traditional publishing continues to reel from the economic downturn, the closure of Brick and Mortar Bookstores and an ever-present and encroaching Ebook world, they are going more and more with what has worked before. Tried and true formulaic writing, series etc… But what is crap, and what is a wonderful YA novel? Well, yes, crap is in the eye of the beholder as is beauty, but if as the Huff Post title says we are to “let our teens choose,” then we should also be real about what they have to choose from. We can’t just defend YA from all its critics with one big loud 140 character brushstroke— one size fits all response.
Lets remember, YA is just one cog in a multi- billion dollar publishing industry. Those staring at profit margins really aren’t interested in the salient value of a book or its effect on the teen that reads it. I believe, they could care less if it actually saves anyone, or if they use it as toilet paper. Whether its shoes, widgets or books the principles are the same. If it sells, we do it again, and again and again, ad nauseam . . .
Can YA, as this big community, honestly look itself in the mirror and say, yeah, I could see how a parent could think all YA is dark just by taking a quick glance at the limited displays in bookstores, the limited choices these dying chains have to offer it’s teens and their parents. Weeding great books to feed a machine that ultimately has eaten itself. Can we say, yeah there is a lot of crap out there, whatever crap is, and maybe we should look more critically at those who have the power to buy a manuscript instead of just trying to shine their pedestals in hopes of getting an up close and personal glimpse of the interior of those cracking Ivory Towers.
Ultimately, a book can save a life, I believe that, I’ve seen it. But it can also be a waste of some kid’s hard-earned money that he or she can never get back.
Lets just be sure we talk about that kid too . . . .