Readers & friends,
This is a long post, and this is a fun post. Yesterday, I got a newsletter from #BOTNS in my inbox and I opened it to find a letter from author P.S. Duffy that I just couldn’t help but want to share with you all.
The letter is a response to podcast personalities Ann & Duffy who are discussing a slate article by Ruth Graham titled “Yes, Adults Should Be Embarrassed to Read Young Adult Books.” The podcast and Duffy’s letter both raise some interesting points and questions regarding young adult literature and who is given the power to classify and qualify what is “real” literature. I couldn’t help thinking that it perfectly related to Week 21’s review of “The Fault in Our Stars” (which is mentioned several times in the original podcast) and perfectly relates to my personal book review project.
In the letter, Duffy explains that the YA classification was only created recently to market to a very specific reader niché. She writes:
“[Ruth] Graham defines YA in fairly disparaging terms: predictably plotted stories that may feature real- life problems but are focused on “escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia.” Her claim is that despite sophisticated writing and excellent characters, a good YA book has less relevance for the mature reader for than a teenager because the protagonists aren’t themselves mature. That is, YA books are not trying to inform the life experience of adults, only of that of teens and YAs—a kind of closed-loop in which only YAs and teens gain insight because the story is presented by teen protagonists who, having not yet grown up, see the world through an exclusively YA or teen lens.
So what about Holden Caulfield and Scout Finch? They’re both young; they both gave us a vision of the world as seen through their eyes. They weren’t geared for the YA market because there wasn’t any such thing back then. Both books were read by adults and teens. I’m not sure what Michael’s definition is, but he claims To Kill a Mockingbird is essentially YA. I disagree, because I believe Harper Lee (and J.D. Salinger) wrote their books for adults, asking them to re-examine their own lives and values…
Ann also takes the category of “serious literature” to task. But I think what makes these books serious literature is their big themes. What makes them classics is their wholly original voice and enduring characters. Holden, hugely flawed, unravels before our eyes in his painful, poignant refusal to give up his poetic vision of perfection, and we never forget him or his struggle. And Atticus Finch, who could shoot a rabid dog but ultimately could not protect Tom Robinson, shows us that even against the odds you can strive to protect someone’s dignity and your own humanity. We long for the humanity that Scout presents us; we long for the idealism of Holden Caulfield. We think about our own choices; we as adults understand something of the world and ourselves in a way we maybe hadn’t before…”
Duffy goes on to explain:
“Serious literature” challenges us and strives to say something beyond the story it’s telling. It would have been nice if instead of attacking adult fans of YA, Graham had asked what’s driving the need to be comforted and entertained as opposed to being stretched intellectually, provoked, or made uncomfortable? Nothing wrong with escape. Let’s take that magic wand of Harry Potter! Sometimes we need sharply drawn distinctions between good guys and bad ones. We need some measure of predictability in an uncertain world. Maybe this is such a time. We need escape from culture wars, climate change, terrorist threats, mass shootings, foreign wars. We need to root for someone—the kid with cancer, the underdog team. We know Jack Bauer will win, but we want to lose ourselves in how he’s going to do it this time around. Fiction that serves this purpose doesn’t make us think big thoughts. It lets us stop thinking for a bit and just feel.”
So what do you think…is YA capable of being “serious” literature?
And is it fair to judge people based on the books they read?
Join in the conversation!
Listen to the podcast discussion of the article here (starts about 15:00).
Check out #BOTNS at booksonthenigthstand.com for more fun stuff like this 🙂