The evolution of Young Adult.
A few weeks ago, Isabelle posted some thoughts on crossover fiction, talking about how she prefers this nebulous concept over run-of-the-mill young adult fiction, and how she got tired of reading about high school drama, and was relieved when the industry was starting to look for and promote books that can be enjoyed by adults as well as teenagers.
See… I have a similar story, but a completely different perspective on how the YA market has changed. Because I’ve loved YA since I read my first YA Judy Blume book when I was twelve, but was admittedly not even remotely tempted to read something like Sweet Valley High (one of the run-of-the-mill series Isabelle got tired of). I’ve been leery of obvious publisher-driven series like that since a very young age, apparently. (Never read The Babysitter’s Club either.) I’m a bit snobbish when it comes to literature, but I never really considered books like that (or any publisher-driven series—Goosebumps, ANY TV-spin-off series) to be “real” books. It’s like I could smell that they were written by staff writers and not by people who were actually pouring their heart and soul into them.
So while I was a teen—okay, even before I was a teen—I was finding the YA options available to me were beyond slim. If I so much as stepped out of Judy Blume, just about, I hit dull and repetitive high school blah storylines—or worse, Lurlene McDaniel, whose books were being turned into TV-movies-of-the-week over and over (and over!) again, and all seemed to be exactly as awfully melodramatic as the one before (how many teens lose their one true love to cancer anyway? Ms. McDaniel seems to have written about all of them).*
The fact is, young adult literature wasn’t being done well. Except for, again, Judy Blume, and a few spare others (probably Go Ask Alice, for example, but I haven’t read that myself, so I can’t say for certain). This was for two reasons. Number one, there was a lot of stuff that was still way taboo to put into “kids'” books. IE, sex, drugs, all of that. Heck, not even sex. Young Adult up through the early nineties was still awkward about kissing. The genre as a whole has “grown up” in its own way, I guess you could say. The second reason for this, is that young adult books were being written by older people. There seemed to be a kind of stigma almost preventing people who were actually closer to high-school age themselves actually putting any books out. Maybe because “author” had such a adult connotation to it. I can’t say exactly when this wall started breaking down, but I remember watching as it did.
I do think Isabelle hit it right when she said Harry Potter had an effect on this, because obviously that ushered in the overwhelming wave of paranormal in the market today, but Harry Potter isn’t really YA—or any one particular genre, if we get down to it (which is why it’s awesome, right?)—and I can’t help but wonder what some of the other factors were. For example, this year marks a decade worth of NaNoWriMo, a totally online initiative bent entirely on the idea that anyone can write a novel. More than that, the internet, through blogs and youtube and Twitter and everything else, has for years been instilling us with the idea that every single one of us has something to say. You put a thousand monkeys on a thousand typewriters for a thousand years, eventually one of them will write a masterpiece. Fully-functional and imaginative human beings have turned the publishing industry upside down in about a decade.
I can’t help but think that a lot of young YA authors out there today are writing because they had the same reaction as I did to the scanty selections they had available to them growing up. I would honestly go to the stacks at the bookstore or the library, and just cringe because there was so little available, when I knew the possibilities were endless. Other clever likeminded people (a little older than me, which is why they’re all published now!) must have thought the same thing. The stories I write now are the ones I desperately wanted to read when I was a teenager. Because the fact is, the standards for YA fiction have gone up as the writing has improved.
Sure, there are still run-of-the-mill industry-backed series out there (but not as many, if you’ve noticed), but they’re not the ones you hear about. What you hear about is Twilight, and Wicked Lovely, and Shiver, the books that burned in people’s minds until they had to share them with the world. Those are the books that last, they always are, because they are serious endeavors that the writers care about, and if a book is written well, it will be enjoyed by adults and teens alike. And everyone else. There is no such thing as “a book for teens” and “a book for adults,” really. There’s good literature, and there’s less-than-good books. That’s all.
*No disrespect to Lurlene McDaniel. Pulp has its place, I’m sure. Just not on my shelf.