The 1980s were my teen years, and I read like a voracious book maniac. However, there wasn’t much of a YA category at that time so I was left with going to the adult shelves or to the children’s section in the bookstore. That’s it. It was embarrassing to read “children’s” fiction back then (almost as embarrassing as revealing my love of science fiction and fantasy), and I often had to hide the fact that I was reading “adult” books. This frustrated me to no end.
Since then, a robust selection of young adult SF/F literature has been written by a talented group of authors, most of whom would have been shelved in the adult section 20 years earlier. The exciting thing about young adult (YA) literature is that it can do what no other category can can easily accomplish. It brings together children, teens, and adults into a shared reading experience. When you think about how arbitrary these categories are and how easily publishers shift titles from adult to YA to middle grade and back to adult, you realize that good fiction is good fiction despite the age category, and we all get something out of it…and that something should not be embarrassment.
Why should anyone feel embarrassed by reading a good book? I realize that the term “good” is fairly subjective. So, let me define “good” as being a book you enjoy or a book that gets you to pick it up, sit down, and READ. Reading is a mentally active pasttime that engages the reader’s intellect, it stimulates emotion, it generates empathy, and it builds the imagination…not to mention it keeps a person’s vocabulary, reading skills, and writing skills fresh. I don’t see anything embarrassing there.
So, I get annoyed when I read an article like Slate’s “Against YA,” which claims that adults should be embarrassed to read YA fiction and that they should stop reading it. Yeah, I get REALLY annoyed. Statements like this are the statements of bullies who shame others into acting in a manner they think is more appropriate. “Adults should be embarrassed to read YA fiction.” This roughly translates to “there is something wrong with an adult who reads YA because they would otherwise be reading adult fiction.”
Even worse, this ridiculous shaming of adults who read YA establishes the presumption that young adult books are not on the same literary level as adult books. It also ignores the fact that publishers and bookstores use the YA category as a marketing tool to reach readers, not as a litmus test for the quality of the writing, concepts, language, and issues that comprise the book.
As a reader, I am offended by anyone shaming another person for his or her reading choices. As a small press publisher of young adult science fiction, I am equally offended that Slate would publish an article that shames adults for reading books they enjoy. Humans are complex creatures. We do not fit in a finite literary box or category. Our reading lists are diverse and varied. They challenge us, and that challenge comes from the content within the book not the bookshelf title.
If adults become embarrassed of reading YA fiction, the next group to be embarrassed of it are the young adults themselves because they are too smart to hold themselves to a separate standard. Sadly, the author of Slate’s “Against YA” article is so busy shaming adults, that she never once thinks about the affect of her words on young adults. Teens are smart.
Ultimately, both teens and adults deserve a lot more credit than this article affords them. While the author of “Against YA” acknowledges that some YA fiction is well-written, her argument that adults should be embarrassed to read YA fiction only succeeds in rebuilding old walls that divided categories, genres, and readers. I say, stop the shaming and start the reading. Pick up a good book and read. Just Read.