YA appreciation, part 1/2

One of my favorite book blogs, the Book Smugglers, are having YA (young adult lit) appreciation month right now, and they have set aside today for other bloggers to talk about YA.

I love YA books. I loved them when I was younger than the target audience, I loved them all through middle school and high school, and I continued to love them right up to now. It’s hard for me to pin down exactly what makes YA so magical, but I think part of it is that the majority of it is written by people who aren’t in the target audience.

Caveat: Of course, this doesn’t mean that, say, black literature would be better if it was all written by white people. But all adults have been young adults at some point in their life, so it’s different. And of course, sometimes this results in really awful books. We’ve all picked up a YA book and thought…Has this author ever met a high school student? And there have been fantastic YA stories written by young adults, which bring something unique to the table.

But for a lot of adult-written YA, it means the author is thinking very carefully about her audience while writing.

For me, writing is about storytelling. And that means telling a story to someone. The readers are just as important to the process as I am, and the experience of reading the book is something we create together.

For some reason (I blame the Romantic movement), a lot of people have this idea about art as something that the genius creator does all by himself (yes, in this version the creator is usually a “he”), and then he lets other people see it. They are supposed to passively appreciate his vision in the manner it was intended.

Joss Whedon’s “I give my viewers what they need, not what they want,” is a classic example. We won’t get into my issues with Joss Whedon, but suffice it to say, my goal is the give my readers what they want.

It’s like making a chair. If I’m a furniture maker, and I spend twenty hours making a beautiful chair, and then someone else spends twenty hours sitting in it, it doesn’t really matter how much passion and joy and genius I put into the woodwork if they aren’t comfortable in it, and I can’t tell them, no, you really are comfortable, if they’re not. They know best about that. Together, we created the experience of that chair.

I think YA authors, because they are so conscious that they are writing for someone else, get that more often than other writers.

Stay tuned: tomorrow I’ll post about a few amazing YA books that are on my shelves right now.

9 thoughts on “YA appreciation, part 1/2”

  1. Interesting post! I definitely agree about the whole issue with want vs. need, although I make an exception with a book that seeks to challenge readers’ assumptions and beliefs; sometimes that uncomfortable place can lead to a lot of revelations (The Book Thief was a book that did that for me.)

    1. Thanks!! You know, I’ve been thinking about your comment on and off all day, and I have a bunch of somewhat contradictory responses. On the one hand, I totally agree! Art is a great way to open or change people’s minds. I know I’ve read books that really challenged me, and it wasn’t always a fun experience, although sometimes it was. On the other hand, from the POV of writing a book like that, if you set out to persuade or challenge people, I think you have to be even more conscious of your audience and even more aware of/responsive to their needs and desires, or you aren’t going to be successful at making your book a compelling experience despite its unpleasant/challenging aspects.
      Of course there’s always art like (to choose a fairly neutral example) Marcel Duchamp’s urinal, where the point is more to give your audience a sort of “fuck you,” and that can be totally valuable! But I suspect that’s hard to maintain over an entire novel or TV show and still retain any audience at all. And even in the case of more short-term shock-value art, I think that often (not always!) underneath that “fuck you” is the idea that your art is for someone else, someone it’s not “supposed” to be for, and that that’s the audience you have a relationship with and responsibility towards–in the case of the urinal, Duchamp’s friends, other Dadaists, and artists/art appreciators who felt frustrated or smothered by the standards of the art establishment.
      I don’t know! Does any of that even make sense? Also, now I want to read “The Book Thief”!

  2. Well now I really want to hear about your issues with Joss Whedon 🙂
    But I think your chair analogy is right on the money. I think the romance genre works this way too, since, apart from the question of whether the book is well crafted, so many reader-preference issues come into play. (e.g., a lot of us won’t read those vintage rapist-hero books regardless of the book’s quality.) It puts something personal in the writer-reader relationship, which I think is pretty cool.
    Regarding YA, a great thing about having kids is that they tip you off to great writers you might not otherwise have discovered. My kids have introduced me to John Green and Jaclyn Moriarty, whose books are both intelligent and hilarious.

    1. Well now I really want to hear about your issues with Joss Whedon 🙂
      Oh, I can go for HOURS. The short version is often his choices as a showrunner/writer seem more about punishing or fucking with his fans than about telling a good story. Also, he’s not as good a feminist as I once wanted to believe he was. Part of the problem is that I used to love him so much…Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned!
      And yes! That is also one of the things I love about genre fiction. It’s about books/writing as community and shared experience, not one person’s “art.” ♥
      Ooh, tell me more about these John Green and Jaclyn Moriarty characters!

      1. Okay, I have recommendations for you. You were a math major, right? So John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines. The hero is a one-time child prodigy who has a history of getting dumped by girls and who sets out in all earnestness to develop a mathematical formula that will predict the course and eventual end of any new relationship, thereby sparing him (and the world, once he publishes it) a lot of heartache.
        Also he’s a compulsive anagrammer. And he’s on a road trip with his best & only friend, a sardonic overweight observant Muslim who he met years ago in gifted-child classes. And they wind up going out to hunt a giant feral hog.
        Jaclyn Moriarty: The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie. Bindy is seriously one of my top five favorite characters in fiction. She’s a bit like Harriet the Spy only much, much less self-aware. Anyway she’s outraged when her high school schedules “Friendship and Development” classes (touchy-feely sessions to help the kids get through high school) and she has to spend time getting to know her peers instead of bolstering her academic credits. The plot goes a tiny bit off the deep end but I forgive it just because I get such a kick out of Bindy herself.

          1. Ha! You must read it and see!
            I forgot to mention that Bindy narrates most of it. I’m a sucker for a first-person narrator who has basically zero self-understanding. (The Remains of the Day is my favorite example of that.)

          2. Oh dear. Okay, just promise me it doesn’t have a sad ending. I can’t deal with sad endings! Also yes, I love unconsciously unreliable narrators too. Remains of the Day is SO fabulous. (I love the ridiculously over-self-aware narrator too, who is always saying to the reader, “Look, I know what you’re going to say, but…”)

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