Shaming in the YA genre

Friday, June 6, 2014

Originally, I had planned a different post for today, but after yesterday's explosion I couldn't help but put in my two cents.

Yesterday, the YA lit world blew up once Ruth Graham's Slate article, Against YA. hit the Internet. Read it for yourself, but beware, you will be one pissed off YA reader if you do. She states, "Adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children." Then she continues to say that Divergent by Veronica Roth is "transparently trashy," and that the only genre within YA that might be considered "serious literature" would be contemporary/realistic fiction.

This alone made my blood boil. She is saying that contemporary novels are the only ones that matter because they are about "real teens doing real things". Then she dumps the idea that it's replacing literary fiction for adult readers and how shameful that is (Graham, 1).

I'm sorry, but who the heck has forgotten about a literary phenomena that happened several years ago with Harry Potter? Is she saying that HP is not worth the category of "serious literature" because it's not only considered children's lit but it's also considered fantasy? Lest we forget, that series, though it was written about a child/teenager, was written for everyone. It talked about censorship, discrimination and prejudice, elitism, civil rights, etc. --all of those nuggets of wisdom threaded through the foundation of those novels, yet Graham proclaims books in that category are unworthy of reading by an adult. Go even further and think about The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. That book is about a 12 year old girl, but that is not just for children.

Graham continues to hit on what she deems is the purpose of YA fiction: "It's aim is to be [solely] pleasurable".

Okay, I will be the first to admit to you that I read YA because I absolutely love it and it pleases me, but is that the only reason I read YA? No. I read YA for many reasons, one of them being the fact that it is so much more than a book; it's about empathy and growing alongside the characters. Graham claims that if you are an adult writer, you should plant adult ideas into your work so that they don't "abandon... mature insight". Meaning, you need to put adult things into a teenage world in order for it to be valid for adults to read.

I'm sorry but that is a bunch of BS. I'm sorry not every book can be about Holden Caulfield, but you know, that would make for some seriously boring literature if that were so.

When Graham expounds on that idea, she claims that all YA endings are "satisfying". I completely disagree. The Fault in Our Stars (which she rips to pieces in this article) does not end happily. A main character dies, and many tears follow. Is that a satisfying/happy ending? No, but it's realistic. Take The Hunger Games for instance. The end of Mockingjay was not what everyone expected or wanted --and many people were upset. Peeta and Katniss ended up with major PTSD, Peeta needed a freaking psychiatrist because of all the brainwashing he went through. The ending was quite bleak and unhappy, but such is a world that just went through a revolution; it's not going to be a happy place.

Yes, many other YA books have happy endings or slightly unrealistic endings, but why should we fault them for that? It's their story. They can write it as happily or as sad as they want to.

I think Graham's biggest mistake though, is saying that she does not think that people who read YA actually read literary novels. In school, teenagers read YA alongside classics all the time, and that does not cease. Just because I loved YA doesn't mean I don't love classics --I graduated with a BA in English for Christ's sake! For someone to tell me that I am worth less because my reading tastes prefer YA to some classics does not make me want to count their argument as valid.

I've met many people like Ruth Graham -I'm not going to presume I know her personally, but I do know people of similar tastes. We called them the pretentious English majors at university. Those people thought they were more intelligent, more educated, more enlightened, than the other half of the English major population, but what happens when all you are steeped in is classics and the adult literary world? Do you forget what it was to be a child or a teenager? And how would that affect you if all you read was realistic fiction? What happens to your imagination? You have to use less imagination to read realistic fiction than you would fantasy.

All in all, I found this article to be extremely offensive and full of reader-shaming. I don't care what you read! You can read Twilight for crying out loud (though I think it's terrible, but that's my opinion), I don't care. You're reading, and that's all that matters in the long run. Maybe one day, your tastes will grow; they will change and alter, and you will read books that didn't interest you before. That's the secret of growing up. We all grow up in different ways, and we need to allow everyone their differences.


  1. She gives the impression of a pretentious snob in that article. I had a university English professor who probably felt much the same way, judging by some of the things she said to us. She was one of those women who proudly told people that she didn't let her daughter watch Disney princess movies, and then made her students read literary crap that was so boring that, after reading it, they'd never want to pick up any "adult" book ever again. And people wonder why some kids hate reading. Maybe it's because they were forced to read things they didn't enjoy (or they were shamed when they tried to read things they did).

    Literary fiction isn't for everyone. Neither is YA. If Ruth Graham feels that YA is beneath her, she doesn't have to read it. But she really has no right to shame other readers for their choices. She thinks she's a grown-up because she reads literary "adult" fiction... but by trying to place herself above other readers with her book choices, she actually comes across as someone who merely thinks she's a grown-up reader... much like an 8-year-old bragging about how they just read War and Peace and looking down on his friends who are still reading Harry Potter.

  2. I'm really, really proud to see both young adults AND adults joining up to defend the YA genre. Anyway, I totally agree with you. It's honestly perfectly okay for her to feel embarrassed about reading YA, but please, for the love of God, don't try to force your ideas on others. "Then she dumps the idea that it's replacing literary fiction for adult readers and how shameful that is" -- I'd just like to point out that YA books are in NO WAY replacing adult literary fiction. When I walk into the biggest bookstore in the country, there is only a small section of the store aimed toward YA readers. The rest of the store? Different genres of adult books. Plus, people have a choice: they can choose to read YA, or they can choose not to. It is SO simple. YA books can't be replacing anything unless that something is decreasing significantly in quantity, while YA increases. Which is definitely not happening.

    Also, there are actually plenty of YA books that are literary classics. Take To Kill A Mockingbird, for example. Even though the book deals with very much grownup issues, it still has a young protag, around the age of a young adult. And, c'mon, who hasn't realized that the YA genre is basically classified by how old its protags are? The Hunger Games has very mature themes as well, as does Harry Potter (as the series progresses, at least). Another classic is Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Another book about racism with a protag in her teens. How about The Lord of the Rings? Or Alice in Wonderland? Or Lord of the Flies, which bears a lot of resemblance to THG? I think all these young adult books can very much be considered as literary material, even to this half-assed author who obviously isn't young at heart anymore.

    But really, what I wanted to point out about the "satisfying endings" bullshit is that realistic endings often means sad ones. Bad ones. How is that going to make readers feel? Authors would have to deal with a lot of crap from their readers if they wrote a bad ending. All because one unsatisfied reader wasn't happy that YA had unrealistic ones.

    So yeah, just adding on to what you wrote because my post was kind of focusing on something else! Not sure if I made much sense, though, because I'm really worked up and angry about this, and that tends to make me sound disorganized and confusing.... But, yeah, Ms. Graham should really get off her high horse and go read some adult books, since she's so ashamed. Don't tell others what to do. They have their own brains, you have yours.

    Great post, Amanda! (Sorry for the long-ass comment, I had a lot to talk about, apparently ;D)

    1. Awe, thanks Megan! I love long comments, so you are just fine! I agree whole-heartedly. It's very frustrating, and I don't like that she shames readers. That is my biggest overarching issue. She makes people feel like crap because they enjoy reading -I don't care what kind of literature it is. That and she assumes that if you read YA, that's all you read, which is utterly false. I read adult fiction all the time, granted I read more YA than other but I still read adult and classics, and I would imagine that most people are of the same mind.

      She generalizes the population that reads YA lit, and then she ridicules them and more importantly the writers, who are in the same age group as she is. And the comments from the article that you put on your post absolutely drove me crazy! Reading is an exercise in empathy and if you can't empathize with a character, that makes you cold hearted not a pedophile (that's also taking into consideration that it is in fact a good book).

      So frustrating. I look forward to reading your other blog posts. It seems that we are of the same mind. :)

  3. Such a great post! The thing that really makes my blood boil is that this woman has the audacity to think that she decides what "counts" as acceptable reading materials for me or any other adult. I mean, is she really going to try to tell me that all adult novels are worth reading? Probably not. Why does she think that her standards matter to me and what I choose to read? And the worst to me was implying that ANY author's book is "trashy". Does she have any idea how much of an author's heart and soul gets poured into creating those pages? And as for her saying she's "an adult" because she didn't cry at TFIOS, well, the adults I know don't go around bullying other adults on their choice of reading material.

    1. Yes, to everything you just said. It's sad when people get to the point that they feel better about themselves after bullying or degrading others because of their choices.


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