Not Just for Teens Anymore?

Adults have been talking a lot about YA literature lately.

Author Margo Rabb (Cures for Heartbreak, 2007) was heartbroken herself to learn that her first novel would be published for young adults, though she soon resigned herself to the prospect.

Cory Doctorow, longtime adult science fiction writer and digital privacy advocate, learned from publishing his first novel for young adults (Little Brother, 2008) that writing for young people is really exciting.

When screenwriter and author Frank Cottrell Boyce compared the YA section of a bookstore to a literary “kids’ menu” in his review of The Knife of Never Letting Go (2008), he provoked a series of passionate responses from YA librarians and YA lit defenders.

Boyce complains that teens’ tastes have been “ghettoised,” but to me his most telling comment is his final line, “Don’t let the demographic exclude you.” It seems Boyce’s “quibble” is less that the book in question is offered to teens and more that is it not first offered to adults.

When Doctorow describes the YA section of a bookstore as a parallel universe of little-regarded awesomeness, his readers chime in with similar sentiments, sharing, as if they’ve found some vast new secret, their favorite young adult titles.

Even June’s issue of VOYA proclaims in a feature article that YA books are Not Just for Teens Anymore.

It’s heartening to see teen literature finally getting some of the respect it deserves, but there seems to be an element missing here: teens.

As a teen advocate, I value YA literature not just for the enjoyable reading experience it provides for me but for the impact it has on teens’ lives. I’m glad adults are warming up to teen literature, but I also know that publishing is a business and that adults far outweigh teens in buying power. So when I hear adults talk with delight about “discovering” YA books, I’m both pleased and concerned.

How can librarians and educators speak up to publishers about the literary and recreational needs of teens? How can teens advocate for themselves? Or is all publicity good publicity?

About Megan Honig

Megan Honig is the Teen Collection Specialist at the New York Public Library. When not blogging for YALSA, Megan can be found writing fiction herself, challenging negative attitudes toward street lit, and shocking teens by beating them at Dance Dance Revolution. Megan is also a member of YALSA's Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults Committee.
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5 Comments

  1. After reading Rabb’s essay, I would say confused rather than heartbroken. Judging from the letter at the end of the essay, Rabb obviously appreciates the rewards in connecting with teens readers. Public opinion has not caught up with transformation in YA literature but I think adult readers are slowly getting the message that they are missing out if they ignore the wonderful stories being told in YA.

  2. I agree with Marshall Reid- adult readers ARE missing out if they dismiss YA lit.

    Beth Fehlbaum, author
    Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse
    http://courageinpatience.blogspot.com
    http://www.kunati.com/courage-in-patience
    Chapter 1 is online!

  3. I so agree that adults miss out by ignoring YA. We talked about that a bit at the Ypulse conference this week.

    I do think that all publicity is good publicity in the sense that if YA books get more respect, there will be more space for them in bookstores, libraries, etc, and that can only mean a wider variety of awesomeness for teens to choose from.

  4. Check out Paige Y’s post to see why adults reading YA is a good thing: http://readingandbreathing.blogspot.com/2008/07/my-young-adult-rant.html

    If some of the “gatekeepers” (librarians, teachers, etc.) in schools and libraries are not reading and being enthusiastic about YA, they won’t buy it; will buy less; won’t use YA in the classroom; and will keep the old attitude that good teen readers should “skip” YA books (“because its all that Sweet Valley HIgh trash) and go straight to adult titles.

    We cannot advocate for teens (and also do what it takes for teens to advocate for themselves) if we are not familiar with the books.

  5. When I read this sentence from the Boyce article:
    “Anything that is made to be sold to a particular demographic, however, will always end up reflecting the superficial concerns of that demographic.”
    I am frustrated at such an ignorant sentiment but reminded of something that (I think) was in your VOYA article this month, about how teens are often attracted to Street Lit but grow to recognize the limitations of the genre and eventually want to branch out.

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