Wednesday, April 29, 2009

YA Ghettoland

It's amazing how condescending otherwise nice people can be if you tell them you are writing a book for teens. "Oh that's nice," they say. "And maybe someday you'll be able to move up and write for adults." Or even: "Why would you write that stuff?"

"Move up"?? "That stuff"?? I am not kidding. People have said this to me. I don't think they realized how silly they sounded. But somehow books for kids can't be as good as books for adults. Forget the fact that the most influential books I read in my life are the books I read before I hit age 18, including things like the Chronicles of Narnia, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the works of Judy Blume, and fantastic stuff like The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Island of the Blue Dolphins. These are the books that made me love reading and allowed me to move on to Dickens, Austen, and Shakespeare.

Nowhere are you more likely to touch a nerve, bring comfort, entertain, or enlighten as you are with kids. Check out this story in the NYTimes about an author who got pushed into the YA category, was dissed by "adult" writers and ultimately realized the impact her book had on teens.

Apparently there was a bit of an outcry when some YA classified novels won some Science Fiction awards. Check out writer John Scalzi's post, where he disposes with that argument most effectively.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that kid's lit is ghetto-ized, even though it's one of the few areas in publishing resisting the recession and people love to pontificate how important it is that our children read. Kids don't vote. And they often don't pay for the books they read. Certain conservative politicians have resisted the US signing the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child, for crying out loud, saying they don't want some non-American organization telling them how to raise their child.

I send a big fat raspberry fart noise their way.


Jane said...

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler? Island of the Blue Dolphins? Ok, you're officially my new girl crush!

I couldn't agree with you more - the books you read as a youth inspire and shape the books you read as an adult, and even who you are as an adult. It seems to me that marginalizing YA books does a disservice to authors as well as readers.

You would think after the success of the Twilight series (I know, I know!) these attitudes would shift. Until then, go on with your YA-writing self!

Nina Berry said...

Anyone who loves Mixed-Up Files and Island of the Blue Dolphins is a fellow girl crush in my book! Thanks, Jane!