Give it up for today's Smarty Pants/Super Yangelist, Rachel K! Rachel became a librarian in order to feed her book habit. She happily reads at least one YA novel a week, though does try to read Adult Literary Fiction on occasion, which never ends well. She and her friend Jo have a website where they talk about books. A lot. Her favorite cocktail is anything with gin.
I'm going to say something controversial. It might anger some people, but I have to stand by convictions: YA fiction is better than adult fiction.
Whew, I said it. That was actually kind of hard.
Right at this moment, all the hipsters are getting their panties in a twist because Jonathan Franzen just wrote another book about people who can't connect with their families or whatever, and how it, like, totally mirrors the perils of modern existence and our own inability to find meaning in a world gone mad! Because I've never read a book like that before, in every English I've ever had since Middle School.
Y'all know what happens in Adult Literary Fiction: Protagonist has an existential crisis-perhaps because he (and it's pretty much always a he, even when the author is a lady, because Adult Literary Fiction still bows to a male hegemony) is an alcoholic, or a parent just died, or his meaningless affair with a young nymphet (because boys are allowed to be sexually active) has gone sour, and he spends the rest of the book trying to find meaning in the world. In other words, plots GO NOWHERE and characters are mean drunks with tragic pasts and are COMPLETELY UNINTERESTING. Any ounce of interesting a plot or a character might have is lost because it is then repeated six hundred million times over 900 pages. Christ, I read One Hundred Years of Solitude and thought it should have been called Gabriel Garcia Marquez Makes Incest Boring. I mean, Flowers in the Attic is terrible, but at least it's, like, trashy fun. Like a drag queen version of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (Dear Hollywood: You can have that one, and you're welcome.)
Here are the plots of two books, and you tell me which you'd rather read:
Every person in a town systematically loses their sight, except for one woman, who lies about being blind in order to stay with her husband. In the process, the entire town is quarantined inside an abandoned mental hospital. Two groups emerge and one group takes control of the food, leading to unimaginable horrors. The society devolves into madness, people dying in the street, going hungry, and being filthy, and the entire process is witnessed by one woman.
- or -
TC and Augie have been playing brothers since they were six, despite the fact that Augie has both his parents. They're still playing brothers the first day of high school, when the beautiful Alejandra, a diplomat's daughter, joins their class. The year becomes one of first loves, new talents, family additions, baseball and a very special appearance by Julie Andrews.
Seriously, is it even a contest?
Important Literary Journals and Established Intellectual News Sources say I should be ashamed of my reading habits. I'm the reason the publishing world is in such a state, me and my crummy stupid YA books, and it has nothing to do with shitty, self-important authors who are working out their issues in their "plots" rather than with a therapist, because the book isn't actually a book- it's the author dealing with the fact that he (and Important Adult Literary authors are almost always men) didn't win the box car derby when he was nine, and that pain has haunted him for his entire life! The book isn't bad. I just don't get the metaphor or understand the author's pain. PAIN!!!!!1
To which I say, pay the money for the therapy, hack, and write a book where someone actually does something other than bemoan the fact that he (see above note re: male protagonists) never connected with his mother/father before said parents' untimely death of cancer or consumption. Also, get over your man pain, pussy.
Now, I'm not saying that nothing ridiculous ever happens in YA books. In fact, YA books are full of the improbable, whether it's slightly unlikely (Will Grayson, Will Grayson) or no fucking way (Twilight. (Sorry, TwiMoms, Edward will never manifest)), but at the end of the day, they're about emotion and journey. Even Twilight, which I hate (HHHHAAAAAATTTTEEEE) has Bella changing from book to book. Maybe not in ways that I like, but the character goes from one emotional place to another, which is way more than fucking happens in Confederacy of Dunces. That book made me want to stab myself just to break up the narrative monotony. I thought, "Maybe if I'm bleeding and in pain, the book will be funny?" (Note: I did not stab myself, because I hit 50 pages, and Nancy Pearl told me I could stop at 50 pages. Thanks, Nancy!).
I have never read a YA book where a character is in the same emotional place at the end as she (because YA books can have lady protagonists) or he was at the beginning. And, Jesus, isn't that the point of literature? To take us on a journey, using the written word, to convey universal truth? What the fuck is a good sentence worth if it doesn't actually move the reader?
I'm proud to read YA novels with cringe worthy covers. It's like a secret: The person next to me on the train is reading terrible snake oil book, full of un-ironic poetry inspired by garbage cans, and he's thinking "I am so much more intellectual than that frivolous young woman reading a book with a cow carrying a gnome on the cover." He thinks I'm reading something that must taste like bubble gum and Am Not Improving Myself. What he doesn't know is that my bubble gum book is secretly brussels sprouts and NOT ONLY is it as nutritious as a Summer Solstice day, full of literary merit and wonderful word play but it is also entertaining as fuck.
YA authors are storytellers and that is a sacred thing. Story tellers were and are revered amongst all cultures. Think of the people in your life that you want to be around: Do they lecture, or do they tell stories? We are taught when we are young that story is important. Is your first narrative memory of long, metaphor laden sentences? No. It's of your mom, or dad, or a grandparent or some other family member sitting you on their lap and saying "Once upon a time, in a far away land, an amazing thing happened." That's what YA authors remember-that story is supposed to be transporting. Everything else is just noise.
So go forth, brothers and sisters of the YA revolution! Be an evangelical force for Story, and lead the readers from barren wilderness of Literary Fiction to the glowing hearth of YA!
And may the Blessing of John Green be upon you. Amen.