I met up with one of my CP’s yesterday (see Dahlia’s excellent post for more on CP’s). We had a lovely time, discussing all sorts of topics, including what I think of as the elephant in the publishing room: YA.
YA is hot. It’s where publishers are buying, and where authors are selling. It also seems to be where the writing community on the internet is hanging out. Most of the writerly people I follow on Twitter write YA. Contests, even if open to adult authors, tend to heavily skew toward kid lit. Most of the agents I follow rep it, if not exclusively. A “YA ______” seems to be the top of most agent wishlists. And quite frankly, this isn’t anything new. YA has been a trend in publishing for so long I’m starting to wonder if it’s now the norm.
What I’ve been noticing about YA lately, and what makes me a little frustrated with all the hype, is that very few of the YA books I’ve read have been good. Good like Gone Girl good. Good like it hits you between the eyes and doesn’t let you off the floor for several days good. And I like to read good stories. It doesn’t bother me if what I’m reading is hard core SF aimed at astro-physics nerds, or romance novels aimed at bored housewives, or YA contempts aimed at teenage girls. What I look for is a book that stays with me after I read it. That gives me something to think about after I’ve turned the final page. That worms its way into my consciousness, coming up at odd moments.
Very few of the YA books I’ve read recently have done this. I remember reading Madeline L’Engle’s Arm of the Starfish and House Like a Lotus as a teenager. I went back to those books again and again, each time finding another layer of meaning. I bought Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising (although arguably more MG than YA) a few years ago, and was delightfully surprised to find that it held up. By contrast, what’s being published today seems more like candy. It’s deliciously sweet, easily consumed, and has very little substance.* Even the dystopian novels all seem to have (relatively) happy endings.
This worries me. What does it say that the books written for the “me” generation are, for the most part, easily digestible bits of fancy that avoid the hard questions? Is it that kids these days aren’t willing to put any work into reading? Or is it that the industry has decided to keep throwing softballs on the grounds that any reading is better than no reading?
I write adult fiction. I write about hard questions, and choices where there is no right answer, and the intersections between love and selfishness. I write flawed characters who make poor choices and don’t always learn from their mistakes. It’s going to cause difficulties for me down the line, once I get past the writing into the selling. And I’m okay with that. But a part of me has to wonder whether, in writing about the dark and the gritty and the adult, I’ve closed myself off from the audiences who’ve grown up reading today’s YA.
* I’m not saying that this is true of all YA books, not by a long shot. And I’d welcome suggestions for YA books left you sitting on the couch, stunned, when you finished them. For that matter, I’m open to suggestions for good books, period.