Jessica Green is a book addict and library card holder since the age of 3. She’s a librarian at the Ottawa Public Library and currently the Apartment613 Librarian-in-Residence, sharing a compendium of literary thoughts and tips.
Slate published this article last month written by Ruth Graham, “Against YA: Adults should be embarrassed to read children’s books” which caused a firestorm among librarians and many others. One of the many assertions the author makes is the following, “There’s room for pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader.[…]But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something.”
I have two immediate thoughts to this statement: one is that I bet I can find books about maudlin adult dramas within seconds that aren’t the sophisticated style of literature this author feels we should be reading; and the second is that there are many Young Adult (YA) and teen books that do not have anything resembling a pleasant ending.
I’m not the first to write a rebuttal to the op-ed as many folks around the internet felt it was a terribly snooty article and way off base. As Mark Medley responsed in the National Post, “After all, the point of literature isn’t to learn about people and places and situations other than your own. There’s no room for wonder, for magic, for fun. Books are meant to confirm our preconceived notions, not expand our horizons.”
Graham must have missed all the political subtext and moral issues that exist in the Hunger Games. Or how about the devastation the reader feels reading Thirteen Reasons Why as the main character tries to discover the reasons behind his friend’s suicide. Or even the ending of the super hot The Fault In Our Stars?? And that’s just three titles; I could be here all day….
It seems that YA has just taken the place of Chick Lit as the new, hot genre invented by publishers which is then downplayed as pleasant fluff. Life is too short to read boring books and I, much like many of you, read for escapism and enjoyment. I freely admit to not really caring if I read the current award winning darling as sometimes those books are really dull. I have been reading more YA novels and finding some real gems along the way. It is true that there are many teen novels with the fun ‘boy meets girl’ trope, but there are a great deal more that have interesting story lines and complications that rival adult books.
One of the commenters on the original Slate article left the following quote from Nick Hornby: “I see now that dismissing YA books because you’re not a young adult is a little bit like refusing to watch thrillers on the grounds that you’re not a policeman or a dangerous criminal, and as a consequence, I’ve discovered a previously ignored room at the back of the bookstore that’s filled with masterpieces I’ve never heard of.”
I leave you with a barely scratching the surface list of some interesting teen titles you can get here at the Ottawa Public Libray:
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
- Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
- Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg
- Pure by Juliana Baggott
- Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
- SilverFin by Charles Higson
- Cracked by M.K. Walton
- It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
- I am J by Cris Beam
- Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
- The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
- #16thingsithoughtweretrue by Janet Gurtler
- This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith
- Little Brother by Cory Doctorow