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Monday, June 09, 2014

Forever Young Adult Readers Under Attack

So I write Young Adult. I read YA. I also read romance, mystery, literary fiction, nonfiction, picture books, board books, the newspaper, blogs, and middle-grade novels. But right now, YA readers over the age of 18 are under attack by a blogger named Ruth Graham who wrote a post called AGAINST YA on the Slate Book Review. Her tagline reads, "Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you're reading was written for children."

You might have seen this article or heard about it. It's been circulating around Facebook and Twitter, and it has several readers and writers steaming mad! I think the part that is so objective, of course, is the word embarrassed. I'm thinking adults should be embarrassed over much more serious things, such as our infiltration of Facebook, than reading Fault in Our Stars or standing in line for the midnight showing of Twilight. But what do I know? I read YA.

Since I am a YA and MG novelist, I think Graham gives me a pass because I have to read what I write. But still her article really ticks me off. I have had a lot of adults tell me they read my latest novel, a YA titled Caught Between Two Curses, in one day. Should they be embarrassed about this? Should they be hiding their book behind a black piece of construction paper or wearing big sunglasses when reading it on Kindle? Or should I just be happy that of the friends I know who love to read a lot of different genres and types of books, they took the time to read mine? I'll let you know. . .I'm happy.

I've loved children's books since I was young and I've never stopped. My VERY FAVORITE BOOK SERIES EVER is Harry Potter. I haven't read any adult novel that has made me want to read it three times as all 7 of HP have. So, call me stupid. Call me immature. According to Graham, I'm missing out on great literature that will really make me think and stay with me long after I shut the book. ( Full confession: My mom, in her seventies, and I still mourn the end of the TV series, Angel.)

Here's the deal. Has Graham ever been to a Star Trek convention? Has she seen people dress up and act out The Rocky Horror Picture Show? Should these people be embarrassed to dress up as creatures and characters who aren't even real? What does she think about romance readers who visit the fictional landmarks in their favorite books? I mean, she has opened up a (excuse the cliche) can of worms here.

So, I'm curious. What do you think? Do you read YA? Do you read MG? If you do, do you do this because you like it, because you write for the age, because you have kids/grandkids that age? Do you think it matters what you choose to read as long as you are reading and enjoying it?

I just think Graham entered dangerous territory when she started judging what other people read. It's like banning books. You don't have to ban them to stop YOUR children from reading them, just don't let those books in your house. If Graham doesn't want to read YA, then fine. But she doesn't have to insult the people who do--no matter how old they are.

Not only is Margo L. Dill a young adult writer and reader, she also teaches a novel writing course for people who want to write for the young adult or children's market! Find out all the classes Margo teaches and upcoming dates on the WOW! classroom page here.


  1. Margo--Every time a new Harry Potter book came out, I was there at Borders on Olive--that Saturday morning--eager to buy the newest volume. I would then read it, nonstop, all weekend, until I was finished.

    (No, I was not one of the ones who stayed up until a minute after midnight. However, one time the book cost me close to a hundred dollars because I missed the light on Olive--I passed it up--and I made an illegal left turn to get into the bookstore. Of course a Creve Couer cop was sitting there, probably waiting for froth-on-their-mouths rabid Harry Potter fans, and he gave me a ticket.)

    Well-written books are well-written, no matter the genre or the intended age group of the audience.

    "Because of Winn Dixie" and "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane." Two of my favorite books, both written for children, but nonetheless, are incredibly moving novels.

    Graham is full of it. Perhaps the "it" is herself. Perhaps the "it" is delusion. And perhaps the "it" is normally what we're talking about when we say that someone is full of it...

  2. Sioux:I agree with everything you've said here EXCEPT that the police officer should have been more understanding about your need for Harry Potter. I read HP 4 in a bar on vacation with my friends. I hope they were not embarrassed, but I could not put it down. I read HP 6 on the curb at a festival in our town when I was in IL and my husband was like, "Seriously?" I wasn't the only one. Anyway, maybe that police officer was friends with Graham, who is definitely full of it!

  3. Thanks, Margo. The manager at our local indie bookstore and I have had wonderful conversations about the YA books we have read. Many have the same or better quality writing than adult novels, perhaps because the authors are more sensitive to telling a story within the context of the emotional maturity of its intended audience. You are correct to say that this is somewhat like banning a book. Hopefully, she has reconsidered her position.

  4. Like you, I read everything from picture books to adult novels, and also like you, I enjoy it all. Granted, I read more kidlit now because I write in that field, but I've always been an eclectic reader and not terribly dictated by labels.

    Graham's premise that we should be embarrassed to read YA (or MG or picture books or comic books or ANY other reading material that in her estimation is not "age-appropriate") is highly offensive. What she's implying is that children's literature is immature, lacking in any kind of thought-provoking themes or content. Anyone who has read ANY Newbery-award winning novel knows that these stories are every bit as important AND meaningful as adult literature. Heck, I've read picture books with adult THE VELVETEEN RABBIT about what's real in life. Or what about the politically subversive stuff in THE BITTER BUTTER BATTLE by Dr. Seuss? I'll proudly continue to read YA, MG and picture books, too, as long as writers continue to imbue them with the universal themes I want to explore.

    But that ADULT novel, FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY? I wouldn't be caught dead reading that. :-)

  5. I concur with Sioux.
    If a book is shelved in a Young Adult section and there are adults as well as teens lingering, reading, and buying... I ask what's the big deal? I will read what I want, recommend it or not, and then move on to the next book.
    I read TFiOS for my book club this month. It just happened to be chosen as the Book Into a Movie category. Our YA choice happens to be The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. I read that one too. I DO NOT feel embarrassed. I feel proud that I am a lover of books. All kinds of books.

    The picture on Graham's article is of Alice in Wonderland. I'm reading it out loud to my 9 yo. It's a classic, and it's also very deep. It's absurd that I shouldn't be reading it because it's YA or Children's. Last year I read Peter and Wendy. I'd call that YA too. Oh, book titles are rapidly going through my mind... The Jungle Book,
    Mrs. Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children,
    Any Nancy Drew Book,
    The Mysterious Howling,
    THe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
    These can be classified as YA, right? They're good books no matter how old we are when we read them.

    We read to know we're not alone. C.S. Lewis
    I love that quote. We read to share opinions and stories, and to simply connect with other readers. I loved the books Unbroken and The Art of Racing in the Rain. Publishers redesigned these titles so YA could enjoy them too. There is nothing wrong with YA if it gets our kids and us reading.
    Graham is full of it. I agree. Adults are going to read TFiOS and she can't stop them. It's like saying Pop Tarts are only for kids so adults should be embarrassed to eat them.

    I will be quiet now and go read a book. A YA book!

  6. If I had another boy, I was bound and determined to name him Atticus. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books and movies. In that book you "just" think about important things like: social justice, racism, pure goodness, pure evil, bravery, love. And in Harry Potter (also a favorite) you "just" learn about bravery, friendship, goodness, evil, love. And in Huckleberry Finn (another favorite) you just learn about: racism, goodness, evil, friendship, bravery, love. Hmmm...I see a pattern here.

  7. @Robin: I don't think she's going to reconsider her position even if she thinks she is now wrong. The more I think about this it's like saying romance readers should be embarrassed to read True Crime or something. I mean, really, her point doesn't even make sense.

    @Cathy: I was thinking of 50 Shades of Gray when I was reading her post and writing mine. I haven't read those yet, but I always wonder when people who have read them see other readers reading and wonder: WHAT PART ARE THEY ON??? ;)

    @Ginia: Love the C. S. Lewis quote and thanks for sharing that with us! Pop Tarts, Fruit Snacks, Goldfish--good analogy! :)

    @Camille: I think you have noticed a WONDERFUL pattern!

  8. Anonymous10:06 AM

    Seems to me, it's all about the story! Whatever the intended age level, the essence of a good story can cross over age designations.
    Some of my favourite reads and rereads are written for younger readers but the story, its characters and plot, reach out to me and other readers with their humanity, wit, humor, thrills and/or suspense. Try reading Baby by Patricia MacLachlan for an example of story reaching all ages.
    I could start on picture books but this could turn into an epic.
    Enjoy reading what you like to read. Age need not limit your choice, even after the great old age of "18".

  9. Interesting article, Margo. Hey, by the way, love the concept of your novel, especially being a Chicagoan. Best of luck with it!

  10. Perhaps some adults simply don't have the emotional maturity to read YA? Thus questioning authority and finding a place for themselves is just too scary. And, no, for once, not being as sarcastic as some might think.

  11. Reading YA is my guilty pleasure. Teenage angst can be so fun to read about. I admit, i loved the Twilight series, Hunger Games and others like it.

  12. Margo,

    You can probably guess how I feel about this, but I think sometimes bloggers enjoy making sweeping generalizations such as this one in the hopes of going viral. I wonder what the author of the article would say to anyone who read a book that wasn't technically classified as YA but had a teenage narrator, such as "The Lovely Bones" and "The Secret Life of Bees." Do we get a pass on those because someone decided they should be called literary fiction and not YA? And what about the New Adult genre? Should we shy away from those books too because we're not in our 20s anymore? I could go on and on.

    Here's the bottom line. I read a lot of different genres, and would never try to make anyone feel embarrassed about what they read, because, THEY ARE READING, for heaven's sake!

  13. @Karen: Thanks! BTW, if you are an Amazon Prime member, you can now check CBTC out for free for Kindle! I am so excited about this. :)

    @SueBe: You are probably right--unfortunately. :)

    @Marcy x: ME TOO!

    @Renee: Great points and I agree 100 percent!


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