Tag Archives: Young-adult fiction

YA: Can we look in the mirror?


Mirror ! Mirror! On the Wall !

Image by ihave3kids via Flickr

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 . . . .

YA saves: Missing the boat


A life preserver, or toroidal throwable person...

Image via Wikipedia

By now most people have read or at least heard about the article in the WSJ, if you  haven’t then you’re not missing much. Just a very poorly written, researched and completely out of touch piece which rehashes the old, tired and false argument that kids reading books with violence, sex, tough issues etc. will be prone to act out these things in real life, or something like that. The article also included a lot of ridiculous examples and opinion thrown in for good measure. As Roger Sutton stated, “Why does the author have to reach back FORTY YEARS to talk about “dark YA” when our last big go-round on the topic was just fifteen years ago?” Just one of many examples that show that this piece was obviously thrown together by someone who had little knowledge of the subject or was just guilty of lazy, bad, journalism, or perhaps really believes the falsehoods she espoused— take your pick.

The response from the twitter  world and those that make up what has been called the “YA community” was swift and exacting. (initially myself included.) Dropping laser guided tweets which exploded loudly over all of twitterdom.  A hashtag was born called #yasaves. Telling of how YA books save lives, along with personal stories of the impact of books for teens. Hey, I’m all for that. I’ve been writing realistic fiction (YA) for over ten years now. Talked to thousands of kids all over the country about these same issues. Heard the stories of abuse, rape, suicide, murder, purposeful neglect, starvation, being sold  by a parent for drug money—sadly the list goes on . . .

Like many other YA authors, I’ve seen first hand the impact that these books can have on a young person’s life.  This is why we write, why we criss-cross the country and speak. Why we do what we do. But this is not why I’m writing this post. I’m writing this because I think the response to this ridiculous article in the WSJ is now like dropping a nuclear bomb on an ant. It has been non-stop/over the top.  I think it is wonderful to share passionate stories of how books have helped, healed and saved. But did we really need this article as a lightening rod? Aren’t we giving this horrible piece of journalism a lot more credit than is due? The author of the WSJ article is a very easy target, painting a giant X on her back for all to shoot at but what about the more important targets that no one really seems to want to talk about?

I am probably in the minority on this but I don’t think this lone article will have much effect on Young Adult literature or the ability of those who want to read it, to do so. It is just another uninformed (willful or not) voice thrown out into the vast online ether like many others who shout; “listen to me even though I don’t have a clue as to what I’m talking about.”

I don’t think this article sets “us” back, whoever “us” is. I think what sets us back is the lack of YA books with diverse characters being published. Not that they aren’t being written. What sets us back is a publishing industry (with very few exceptions) that is content to stay in the 20th century, or even the 19th century. Whitewashing covers to placate the masses that have moved far beyond those old racially insensitive business models. What sets us back is not promoting books that aren’t seen by the gatekeepers as overtly  “black” with traditional themes.

What sets us back is the lack of outrage over what “we” (whoever we is) should really be getting outraged over. The fact that there are still racial quotas in the soon to be extinct brick and mortar “major” bookstores. I was told once by an editor that one such “major” store wouldn’t be carrying one of my books because they had already bought their allotted books with black characters in it.  #really?

What sets us back is the shameful lack of diversity seen in the winners of the Newbery and  Caldecott Awards. Time after time great books, authors and illustrators are passed over. Why? Where is the hashtag for that?

What sets us back is the shocking lack of racial diversity in editorial staffs, marketing, art directors, executives.  All of this begs the question, who and what is the YA community? And who do they represent? I don’t know. Am I a part of this community? Sometimes I feel I am, sometimes not. I do know they (we) are quite vocal and seem to galvanize over certain big issues. See last year’s #speakloudly hashtag. Last year I raised the same concerns, offering the opinion that while censorship is never good, the worst censorship comes from those who control what is and what isn’t actually published. Those who control what is stocked in the big chain bookstores. Those who decide what faces we see on book covers.

YA can definitely save, but it won’t if diverse books with real world issues don’t get into the hands of those that need them most. Shouldn’t YA have a chance to save everyone?