A Response to the article: "Against YA"

My friend, Caitlin, (hey, girl, hey!) posted This article on her Facebook yesterday with a rant of her own. If you know me at all, you know my love of books and reading and wouldn’t be surprised that I jumped in on this conversation. It started with me just giving my opinion in the comments, but within myself it turned into more; it was an opportunity for a blog post to expound on the few small comments that I made against this heinous article. 

In the article “Against YA” the author, Ruth Graham, attacks adults for reading YA fiction, and tells them they should be ashamed of their reading choices. If nothing else were said, this is bad enough. No one should ever feel ashamed for reading. Reading is something that is hard enough to get most people to do without making them feel ashamed for doing it in the first place. 

[Side note, you can feel ashamed for reading Twilight. But that’s it.]

There are many reasons that an adult might read YA or children’s fiction. It could be a devotion to an author. I go through stages where I will read everything a single author writes until I’ve completed their entire repertoire. Some authors write both YA and adult novels, and no matter the age group, I’ll read it.  Some examples of writers who appeal to both age groups are Ted Dekker, J.K. Rowling, and Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler.  I like the author, therefore I’ll read anything they write. It’s very possible that some adults have a certain affinity for an author, or even a style of writing that crosses the border of YA and adult lit. 

Another reason could be simple nostalgia. Graham counters this by saying she would never go back and re-read books she enjoyed in her youth. Why? Isn’t part of being a reader reading the stories you love over and over again? Many books I own are nostalgic to me because I loved them growing up, and I still love them now. 

What I really didn’t like about the overall article was the tone. It wasn’t her opinion that adults shouldn’t read YA: it was fact that they should be ashamed. Graham made sure to make her targeted audience feel uneducated and immature for their tastes in books. Life is so short, and the list of truly great books for adults is so long. And if you added YA and children reads, the list could be exponentially longer. 

And if people are reading Eleanor & Park instead of watching Nashville or reading detective novels, so be it, I suppose. But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something….YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering….These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction. 

Is reading not supposed to be an escape? Satisfaction is a side effect of escape. Why does it matter to you, Ms. Graham, how people choose to escape their lives? Some people escape by running, by writing, by eating, by reading. Everyone has something they cling to that helps get through whatever it happening in their lives. What is so wrong with recreational reading? There is just as much fantasy and fluff adult novels. Romance trash novels, anyone? 50 Shades of Grey is NOT literature, but it’s still a book.

 But the YA and “new adult” boom may mean fewer teens aspire to grown-up reading, because the grown-ups they know are reading their books. When I think about what I learned about love, relationships, sex, trauma, happiness, and all the rest—you know, life—from the extracurricular reading I did in high school, I think of John Updike and Alice Munro and other authors whose work has only become richer to me as I have grown older, and which never makes me roll my eyes. 

If you’re a TRUE reader, you will always be expanding your bookshelves and growing. Whether the cover catches your eye, someone recommends it to you, or you find a review of it somewhere. Reading Adult lit is part of being a reader. But why would you limit yourself? Graham says as an adolescent she wanted to “earn” her way into adult reading. Reading isn’t something you earn. Everyone moves at their own pace. I know from my own life I didn’t read Adult or even most YA for a long time into my teenage years because I was uncomfortable with it. But I didn’t “win” anything when I finally wasn’t a prude anymore. And even if I was, it’s none of Ruth Graham’s business what I chose to read. Most of my bookshelf is full of Children YA novels. Some of them I even bought recently! You can learn just as much from a book geared for middle grades as you can from a book for adults. Children and some YA is about growing up, and now that we’ve already “grown up” we can look back on what it was like to be that age. I stayed in the Children’s section because I wanted to read a story without sexual undertones like YA and Adult books can be so full of. Sometimes I just want a sweet story. I definitely agree that no one should judge you by what age book you read The author of this article must be a very sad person with limited reading material.

I’m a reader who did not weep, contra every article ever written about the book, when I read The Fault in Our Stars. I thought, Hmm, that’s a nicely written book for 13-year-olds. If I’m being honest, it also left me saying “Oh, brother” out loud more than once. Does this make me heartless? Or does it make me a grown-up? This is, after all, a book that features a devastatingly handsome teen boy who says things like “I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things” to his girlfriend, whom he then tenderly deflowers on a European vacation he arranged. 

Obviously, you didn’t read the book at all. Did you not read that his Cancer Side-Effect Wish was to give Hazel what she wanted? He sacrificed his Wish for Hazel so he could do something for her. So they could meet Van Houten together, the author who they had loved together. Another reason why books are so important, whether they be YA or Adult Fiction.

I will stand by the idea that you can learn anything from a book. No matter what the target age group, authors desire to have their ideas be felt by others. Why should it matter if it’s a story that takes place between two teenagers or two adults? It’s an adult writing the children’s novel or YA fiction anyway. I pick books because someone has recommended it to me, or I hear good things online. If it sounds good, I want to read it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a classic or contemporary or YA dystopian, but “no one can ever make you feel inferior without your consent.” That was the exact purpose of Graham’s article: to make people feel inferior because of their reading tastes. 

[Also, she called Divergent “trashy” and for that she must pay]

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