Thursday, February 5, 2015

How to Respond When Someone Disdains YA

Remember when I posted about the bias against young adult fiction? I'd discussed briefly how some of my coworkers were anti-YA literature. How:
  • a man said "That's embarrassing" re: reading Catching Fire.
  • another man said that the Harry Potter movies were enough for him.
  • a woman stoutly REFUSED the idea of The Goldfinch ever being considered YA (despite me not even suggesting that).
  • another man said that he could flip to any page of any YA novel and feel like he would still understand what was going on (aka said with a wry smile, like YA is that uncomplicated).
I'd solicited advice from all of you in that blog post. Some of you gave me recommendations for specific books. Some of you sympathized with my plight. All together, I don't think we came up with a uniform solution. But then I realized that I had an answer of my own, and so I decided to make an infographic that you may or may not agree with.

How to Deal with Someone Who Disdains YA
click to expand!

This is essentially me: both silly and serious.

I can't take anyone who disdains YA too seriously. Most of the people who do need some distance from their "lofty ideals" of "literature." So I decided to call them miscreants. You might even notice my reference to that infamous YA hating article of last year (escapism, nostalgia, instant gratification: the only reasons that someone would ever read YA, of course).

But, if they want a better understanding of YA and an analysis of YA, why not refer them to the experts? Scholarly articles and books, graduate programs for kidlit*, even college classes! I took a college class on children's literature and it was handled in much the same way as my regular English literature classes. The only difference was that it was considered a Religious Studies class, and we examined how religion, particularly Christian themes, were embedded in the narratives. Which I probably did in other English classes, too, but less explicitly. Alongside the books (e.g. Tuck Everlasting, The Egypt Game), we read literary criticism. One of my ABSOLUTE favorites was The Deathly Hallows Lectures by John Granger: such thorough and far-reaching analysis of HP7! Here are some of my other favorite quotes from various readings:
"The man-in-the-street puts it in simple terms: children's literature cannot amount to much because 'it's kid stuff.' The assumption here is that by nature the child is 'inferior' to or less than the adult. His literature must be correspondingly inferior or less. Give the kid his comic, while I read grown-up books. But does not this amiable condescension shelter a certain insecurity? As racism is the opium of the inferior mind, as sexual chauvinism is the opium of the defective male, so child-patronage may be the opium of the immature adult." (Fadiman 7)
"But we must not be too quick to pass from the dimensions of length and breadth to that of depth, and say that children's books can never be as 'deep.' The child's world is smaller than the grownup's; but are we so sure that it is shallower? Measured by whose plumbline? Is it not safer to say that, until the child begins to merge into the adolescent, his mental world, though of course in many respects akin to that of his elders, in many others obeys its own private laws of motion? And if this is so, it might be juster to use one plumbline to measure the depth of his literature, and a somewhat different one for that of his elders." (Fadiman 13)
"A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last." (Lewis 33)
"Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves... When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up." (Lewis 34)

Fadiman, Clifton. "The Case for a Children's Literature." Signposts to Criticism of Children's Literature, compiled by Robert Bator. Chicago: American Library Association, 1983: 7-18.

Lewis, C.S. "On Three Ways of Writing for Children." On Stories: And Other Essays in Literature. New York: Harcourt Inc., 1982: 31-43.

Most of the YA bashing articles don't even pause to consider the scholars who analyze kidlit on a daily basis. If one exists where they've talked to experts about the literature as a whole (you know, instead of reading a small sampling and declaring an entire target audience invalid and simplistic), well, I'd like to see that. And maybe then I'd take them seriously. Maaaybe.

My next point of advice was one most frequently suggested by other bloggers: Recommend other books to these people who claim to disdain all of YA on the basis of a few novels. Anya of On Starships and Dragonwings recommended Seraphina by Rachel Hartman; Mel of the Daily Prophecy recommended Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier and The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (which I didn't have space to include -- sorry!); Ameriie of Books Beauty Ameriie recommended The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, and Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick. Fire by Kristin Cashore is one of my all time favorite novels, and I would recommend that to anyone, so I added that on my own anyway. Same with Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, and a need to add more historical novels. Marcus Sedgwick is frequently mentioned in the blogosphere as an author "who people who disdain YA" should read, so I included She Is Not Invisible because of his two novels that I've read, I liked it more than the other and it features a disable MC, which is not common in YA. I wanted to make sure that I had covered a fair amount of actual genres (fantasy, paranormal, historical, contemporary, magical realism) in my recommendations as well as included diverse reads, which, quite honestly, I'm pretty sure I've been lacking these past years no matter how much I'd like to hope otherwise. So, then, I turned to the Round-ups of Starred Reviews from Literary Journals: from 2012, 2013, 2014. I also looked at yesterday's ALAYMG results and added in a few recommendations from there... How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, and Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith.

And in my last and final piece, I pointed out the benefits of reading to people who say the "movie" is enough. I think there are a lot of reasons that people tend to give for why the movie is enough (don't need to read that children's novel, got enough detail from the movie, don't have the time to read the book, etc.), but a lot of of those also seem quite silly to me. If you've made time for seeing the movie, why can't you make time for reading the book? Reading is probably a better pursuit for your brain while you're at it, and gives you the details and theme the movie won't be able to cover.

So, in response to those coworkers, I'd refer the one who disdained Catching Fire to those scholarly articles because he doesn't seem to recognize kidlit as valid. I'd refer the girl who said that about the Goldfinch to those as well. I'd refer the one who implied YA was simplistic to other YA novels. And I'd tell the one who was okay with only seeing the HP movies to stop drinking so much beer and actually read the books, especially if he plans on going to HP World again because wtf dude.

What do you think? Do you like my suggestions? Got any further recommendations to add for how to treat the situation or other books you'd like to recommend? Let me know!

*I know some people don't consider YA as a part of kidlit, but for the most part it seems to be included and handled by similar imprints and publishing industry experts.

**P.S. -- yay, fulfilling more resolutions and making moar graphics! yessssss.


  1. Much of this comes down to your confidence as a reader to stand up for yourself -- as you are doing here. It took me a long time to get to a place where I can articulate to YA snobs why their opinions of what I'm reading represent elitist and limited world views.

    This is a pretty regular battle for me in multiple ways, since I am a school librarian/English teacher and YA lit is the focus of my PhD. People dismiss my career and research as being inferior in some way, without realizing that working with children and researching children's issues does not make one immature. Sometimes I feel like I'm just itching for someone to give me crap about what I'm reading just so I can engage in a heated debate on the topic!

  2. Yey love it! Now we must spread it through all the internets! Minions to work!

  3. I don't really have any thing to add, but I love this post! Whenever someone says something about YA lit, I generally go the recommendation route if they seem at all open to it, but these others are good too.

  4. I'm happy to see Grave Mercy in your info graphic; I can't believe I didn't come up with that one! It's one of my favorite series like you might know by now :D I think we should laugh at people who are so narrow-minded and just feel sad for them that they miss out on these amazing books.

  5. I don't see why people feel the need to judge others entertainment. I think sports are utterly boring and totally not for me, but I wouldn't judge someone else for loving it. There are absolutely fabulous, moving, and profound YA reads out there. Just one example,Melina Marchetta writes beautiful YA books and Looking For Alibrandi was actually a required school read in Australia. I think my favorite is Piper's Son, but I guess that would be labeled NA/adult nowadays. On Jellicoe Road is a close second. I think all these judgy people need to go get stuffed, lol! :)

  6. Mmm, ha, I'm standing up for myself on the interweb but was less good at doing so with my coworkers. I need to get better about articulating to YA snobs, as you say, that their opinions are elitist and limited.

    I didn't know you could get a PhD in YA lit! When I searched grad programs, so many seemed focused on Masters programs. I'd love to talk to you more about your program & classes & the like!

    "without realizing that working with children and researching children's issues does not make one immature" -- most of the time I think that the people who have such world views have to be the immature ones for simply not being comfortable with themselves and others enjoying something that they may not understand.

  7. Hahaha, I loved this comment when I read it earlier this week. YES, MINIONS TO WORK!!! (definitely reminded me of Despicable Me :D).

  8. Yay!! Thanks, Stormy. I think the next thing I want to address (for myself at least) is how to potentially get those people interested in the recommendation route too. Perchance becoming better at debating their own closed opinions...

    (One girl said that "predictable" HP wasn't for her because when she saw her friend reading it, she predicted the ending. Her prediction? That Harry wouldn't die and would kill Voldemort. I was like, are you kidding??? It is the VERY VERY VERY rare book where the main character dies. How does very common "prediction" lead to the whole book being predictable? I debated this but she remained adamant.)

  9. I can't remember if I pointed it out before, but the category of YA is pretty arbitrary and based on marketing, to a certain extent. The Book Thief was not written to be YA and whatever country it was originally published in it wasn't marketed as YA, but in the US it was.

    And I especially like the point about scholars studying children's literature. What are these people saying about that? Either they're bashing the people and saying what they do is worthless and stupid, or they're saying it's ok to have a career based on it, but not ok to read it for pleasure. I would love to see them articulate that argument.

    I have a B.S. in Management, a J.D., a Master's and Ph.D. in political science and I LOVE YA. What are they saying about me?? Seriously, they need to open their minds and stop being so weirdly judgy. :) ~Pam

  10. Yeah, the category of YA is totally arbitrary. A short essay in the collection which Clifton Fadiman is in (listed above) actually talks about how publishers are the ones to decide whether a book is young adult or adult. It's not a genre. It has similar characteristics, but even adult books can share those sometimes since our stories are so often defined by similar patterns like the hero's journey. A similar example to what yo said of The Book Thief is Kristin Cashore's books. In the U.S.: YA. Elsewhere: adult.

    I'd love to read popular articles about young adult in one of those major magazines/journals from a scholar studying the literature. And exactly: "Either they're bashing the people and saying what they do is worthless and stupid, or they're saying it's ok to have a career based on it, but not ok to read it for pleasure. I would love to see them articulate that argument."

    :) people can be so judgy about so many things. They need to read more YA, clearly.

  11. :D hehehe I had to put Grave Mercy! Great series + more historical fiction! You know how you had a NY's resolution to read more historical fiction? I need to too! So few recommendations on that end since I so often avoid those books unless they're fantastical in another way o.O

  12. Ooooh, I want to read more of Melina Marchetta's books. I didn't know Looking for Alibrandi was a required read in Australia! Or that Piper's Son might be considered NA :O. I loooved On Jellicoe Road and would've put it in the graphic if I had more space.

    And yes, I don't understand the judgement impulse either. I get trying to find people who like similar things to you, but it's like when people also hear "x and x band? Ew!" Music, sports, books... *shrug* :/ it's a very sad thing.

    GET STUFFED, judgy people :). Rachel and I said so!


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