Monday, January 4, 2010

Read a YA -- It Won't Kill You

Very recently, Diana Gabaldon's book AN ECHO IN THE BONE was nominated as one of the best books of 2009 over at Goodreads. This, of course, sent everyone into an uproar to vote for her. I thought it was fantastic the way people rallied behind her. That said, a comment in one of the discussions really struck a nerve with me.

Now, I don't know much about Goodreads--never been to the site before The Big Vote--and I know nothing about the readers who frequent the site. As pointed out, many of the forerunners were young adult books. In fact, I believe 7 of the top 10 books were YA. The comment that inspired this post was something along the lines of:

"I couldn't help but notice that a lot of the top books are young adult. I guess that's who's voting."

{{{Warning}}} Ranty McRant is in da HOUSE. {{{Warning}}}

As a writer of young adult novels, not to mention an avid reader of young adult novels, I take offense to this statement. I'll tell you why.

1. It implies that young adult books aren't good enough to win Best Book of 2009.
2. It implies that young adults are lacking in literary taste.
3. It implies that if a young adult book were to win Best Book of 2009 it is only because teens somehow flooded the ballot box unfairly...i.e. the book didn't win on its merits alone.
4. It implies that only teens would vote for a young adult book.

If you're thinking...Sheesh. Jen sure is touchy and reading way more into this than it're probably right. I admit it. I hate when people harsh on YA. It's a hot button of mine. (g)

The truth of the matter is that YA gets a bad rap sometimes. I sort of liken it to category romance. When someone is trying to break into the writing biz and wants a "quick" in, they turn to what they think will be easy. In adult fiction, that's often times genre romance. And when the adult world looks a little too scary, writers often turn to YA. I mean, heck, it's just a bunch of teens dealing with boy/girl problems. How hard can it be?

{insert eye roll}

Do a little experiment with me. Next time you go into a bookstore, walk up and down every aisle. Enjoy the large general fiction area, stroll through the aisles of mysteries...the two to three aisles of romance...heck, go through the big area that houses the children's books. When you're finished with that, take a look at the one wall they give the young adult/teen books. YEP. One wall. ONE. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get on that dang wall? LOL. Trust me, it's hard.

To get on that wall, you have to have something special...something extraordinary. Most of them live up to that expectation. Pick five books at random and I'm betting you'll love most of them. That's how good young adult authors are today. On the other hand, pick five adult books at random and I doubt that will be the case. Why? Because the caliber is higher in YA simply because it has to be. That shelf space is a precious commodity, and simply having a "good story" isn't going to be enough to land you there. (Yes, I realize this touches on an issue all authors face, but one wall makes it that much harder to break in.)

I guess what irks me about this whole thing is that I think a lot of people shy away from reading young adult because they see YA books as less than adult...inferior. An embarrassment to be caught reading. Sort of like owning a Snuggie. It's okay to own one as long as no one knows...and like hell you'd be caught out in public with one.

Not me. I'm proud to say I want a Snuggie AND I read YA whenever and wherever I am. (g)

If there's one thing I'd like to impart with this post, it's that young adult books kick some serious ass. If you haven't read any in the last few years, you're missing out on some good stories. I'm not talking the mega-hits like TWILIGHT and HARRY POTTER...which of course are good...but some of the sleeper hits that are just building up momentum now. I just finished reading CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins and it was probably the best book I read/listened to this year. It also happens to be number 2 on the Best Book of 2009 list.

Coincidence? Only teens voting for it? I doubt it.

Yanno how Coca-Cola wanted to teach the world to sing? Well, I'd like to teach the world to read YA. (g)

Anyone have any thoughts on this one? Am I nuts?


  1. You aren't nuts. Very well stated.

  2. Great post, Jen- you hit on so many relevant points.

    I'm one of those people who shrugs and says, "Eh" to YA novels- not that I choose not to read them, or disrespect them in any way- just that I DON'T choose to read them, when I really should.

    I think it's a matter of distinctions. Look how well HARRY POTTER and TWILIGHT did when they were marketed across audiences. I'm not saying they didn't deserve that recognition; I'm saying the naysayers didn't know what they were missing out on before those books took over the world. And the sad reality is, I still don't think people realise what they're missing out on. A lot of adults don't want to read YA unless it's re-branded and placed in front of them.

    I've ventured into the YA section just once in my adult life (well, once since I stopped working at a bookstore ten years ago (g)), and that was to buy THE MESSENGER, by Markus Zusak. I read THE BOOK THIEF when it was being sold as an adult's book, and I couldn't believe it when I heard it was actually written for a Young Adult audience. There are my hidden prejudices again, eh? So, knowing how much I loved it, and that the author had other YA books on the shelves, I went searching and found one. Loved it, too.

    I definitely need to read more YA, no doubt about it. Now that we have a Kindle in the family, I foresee entry into the world of Maureen Johnson, John Green, Suzanne Collins and many others who come so highly recommended by Jen- Champion of the YA Authors (g).

  3. Claire,

    Oh, I'll make you a convert yet. (g) me some Zusak. I can't believe I've never read THE MESSENGER. Must put that on the list.

    Venture into that section, Claire. DO IT. :)

  4. Oh and P.S...

    I think if everyone had to read but one YA, it should be THE BOOK THIEF. Beyond excellent.

  5. I'll second that - THE BOOK THIEF was definitely excellent.
    In fact, I'll second your entire post, Jen. I don't know what people are thinking when they think YA is for kids only and that it's not serious writing. Was it you in another post who talked about how it's mainly in YA books that you come across the greatest mix of events and emotions? And why would anyone want to cut themselves off from an entire swatch of reading material, anyway?
    Hmm, I think I'll go back to my books read in 2009 blog post and mark exactly how many were YA and how many were brilliant books, and let's see how much the two categories overlap :-)

  6. As for Goodreads, I don't want to get up on a high horse or anything but, well, I've gotten used to the caliber of discussions on the Forum, and even on the longstanding Yahoo groups devoted to DG. And the "discussions" on Goodreads are... to be charitable, they're the types of discussions that had me not joining forums or groups for many years, prior to finding the Compuserve one. And I won't say anything uncharitable :-) Plus the website is bugging me no end because it refuses to link to my libraries and there's no way I'm reentering 2000 books *g*

  7. Deniz,

    I don't blame ya. I doubt I would've put the 2000 books in the first time. Yowsa.

    As for the comment that prompted this (cough) -- it wasn't made at Goodreads. (g)

    Definitely looking forward to the results of your experiment!

  8. It took forever to put all those books in, even though the process is actually very simple (find the book on the LibraryThing Amazon or Library of Congress link and click on "add to library"; if you can't find it, then you have to enter the details manually) - but it was kind of a boring task. The sort of thing I need an intern for!

  9. What, only one foray into the YA section ever? My route at the bookstore: Romance, Fantasy (looking for the newest urban fantasy) and then YA. If time permits mystery and contemporary get a look, too. But I never miss my top three isles.

    And yeah, Jen, one row for YA is sucky.

  10. Sing it sista! :)

    I just read a really good YA -Shiver.

    But maybe you should come visit me; both my local Borders and Barnes have HUGE ya sections -four rows at least. The Borders one is so big, it dwarfs the mystery and romance sections. Never mind that it is set up right at the entrance for maximum selling potential. Go figure.

  11. Kristen,

    I'm jealous. We don't have Borders here, but the two B&N's are like this...

    CCCC*this reps the LARGE childrens sectionCCCC

    YA gets the outside wall of the children's section...that's it. All she wrote. And considering YA covers ALL genres, it ain't much. I'd love to see a four row section!! LOL.

  12. Hell, didn't come out right...oh well. (g)

  13. Deanna,

    One row really does suck. Half the time I go in and can't find the titles I'm looking for. Bah. (g) I think it's getting a little better..but I could be getting lucky. (g)

  14. Jen, the only YA I've read in ages is the Harry Potter books (I have TWILIGHT in my TBR pile, but haven't got there yet.) However, I suspect I'll be reading a whole lot more YA now, as Child #1 has just discovered Scott Westerfield. He's reading LEVIATHIN, is absolutely digging its "steampunk" elements (as he informs me!), and reckons that so far, it's the best book he's ever read. And I was digging through my TBR pile today in preparation for my holiday and came across Neil Gaiman's THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. Can't remember buying this at all, but there you go ... Child #1 is totally into ghosts, so I can see I'm gonna have to arm wrestle him for who gets to read it first!