People “Against YA”?

Adults reading YA literature. A point of controversy in literary circles. “Against YA” an article by Ruth Graham in Slate was quite a flashpoint. The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Washington Post are among the erudite institutions that also weighed in on the “problem.” But I wouldn’t say the problem is with adults reading novels written for young adults. I think the problem is the fiction written for adults.

When I wrote a women’s novel, I delved into the world of women’s upmarket/bookclub fiction. Some of it I absolutely loved. Yet the majority of it I disliked so intensely, I’d throw the book down and refuse to pick it up again. The novel describing the position of a fly in a salad as “the insect’s supine and slightly sensual posture” ended up in the trash. There is nothing sensual about a fly in a salad.

I started reading more YA when I began to write a YA novel. I fell in love with reading again. The variety in YA contemporary is astonishing. There are light plot driven books with happy endings or even not-so-happy endings, there are high concept page turners and there are deep, character driven books whose endings are so real they make your throat ache.

But they all have one thing in common—YA fiction is about the character. Most women’s fiction is about a topic. It seems counterintuitive but the proof is in the writing.

The Spectacular Now, a brilliant YA contemporary novel by Tim Tharp, is about Sutter Keeley, a teen guy who happens to be an alcoholic. It is not about teen alcoholism in the guise of the character Sutter Keeley.

A recent upmarket novel that I didn’t finish reading is about addiction to prescription painkillers. I can’t tell you the main character’s name because all the characters, and all the plots, and all the topics of the books of that genre are stored in one gray lump in my memory—older (meaning mid-thirties to late forties), stressed out wife and mother has an issue or a secret, a boring, lukewarm marriage, and self-centered, bratty, spoiled children. Oh, and usually an affair is lurking somewhere in the mix.

I may be one of those older women, but how old I am is vastly different from how old I feel. I’d much rather read about a young adult whose feelings resonate with me, than commiserate with a woman about her age.

Litmus Test

Below are blurbs from two NY Times bestsellers. Can you guess which is YA and which is WF? Hint: One is about a topic. One is about a character.

  • (Author’s name) examines what it means to be a good parent, a good sister, a good person. Is it morally correct to do whatever it takes to save a child’s life, even if that means infringing upon the rights of another?
  • Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

12 Comments on “People “Against YA”?

  1. Well said, Dawn. It should be about the characters. That’s one of the many reasons I started reading YA. There were too many forgettable protagonists in other genres. Why would I want to read about them if I couldn’t remember their names?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. For some insane reason I always considered myself less of a wrier (and reader!) because I prefer YA over contemporary women’s fiction. Thanks for helping me see the error in my thinking – and that I’m not alone.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Dawne Webber and commented:
    I write young adult fiction and I read a great deal of the same because YA offers something that’s difficult to find in “Grown-up” fiction these days.


  4. There is something about YA fiction that other genres do not have. Whether it is the characters, plot line, or the sheer creativity it takes to make some of the worlds involved in YA novels, there is definitely something that sets the genre apart from others.


  5. Interesting, Dawne. I fell in love with WRITING again after I started to read YA. And I was one of those people who never allowed myself to go in the YA section of bookstores. I thought I was above it. Then I got a YA book recommendation and the rest is history. For me, it’s about possibilities. They seem so limited for adult protags. In YA limitless possibilities are accepted seemingly because the protags are young and usually not too programmed by what society has decided our limits should be. I find that way more interesting.


  6. You make a very good point, RaeChell. In fact, the women’s fiction I enjoyed reading was more about possibilities than about fixing problems, which was the focus of the women’s fiction I disliked (intensely)


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