Monica Edinger highlighted Frank Cottrell Boyce's comments on YA contained in a recent Guardian book review. Monica has a conversation going on at her blog, but as my comment became longer and longer I realized I needed to post on it here, also.
To quote in pertinent part from FCB:
If I have one quibble, it is that I think it should be sitting proudly on the shelf next to these books, rather than being hidden away in the "young adult" ghetto. There's been a lot of fury among authors recently about the proposal to "age-band" children's books, but in a way they're too late. The real disaster has already happened. It's called "young adult" fiction. It used to be the case that you moved on from children's fiction to adult fiction, from The Owl Service, maybe, to Catcher in the Rye. There were, of course, some adult authors who were more fashionable with teenage readers than others - Salinger, Vonnegut, Maya Angelou. But these were chosen by teenagers themselves from the vast world of books. Some time ago, someone saw that trend and turned it into a demographic. Fortunes were made but something crucial was lost. We have already ghettoised teenagers' tastes in music, in clothes and - God forgive us - in food. Can't we at least let them share our reading? Is there anything more depressing than the sight of a "young adult" bookshelf in the corner of the shop. It's the literary equivalent of the "kids' menu" - something that says "please don't bother the grown-ups". If To Kill a Mockingbird were published today, that's where it would be placed, among the chicken nuggets.
This is not just a question of taste. It seems to me that the real purpose of stories and reading is to take you out of yourself and put you somewhere else. Anything that is made to be sold to a particular demographic, however, will always end up reflecting the superficial concerns of that demographic. I've lived through an era in which demographic-fixation murdered popular cinema and replaced a vibrant art form with a kind of digital holding-pen for teenage boys. I think we're in danger of doing the same to fiction. The best young adult fiction - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, A Swift Pure Cry, Noughts and Crosses and so on - strolls out of its category. I've no doubt at all that The Knife of Never Letting Go will do the same. Don't let the demographic exclude you.
Part of me doesn't want to comment at all, from the sense that I'm fast beginning to wonder just what the hell is going on over in the UK with books and reading. Do people really tell teens they cannot read adult books? Is YA Lit really being used as restrictive box to keep teens away from adult materials?
In my experiences, YA Lit offers us more choices, not less. That, at its heart, is my view towards books and reading: what expands our world rather than limits it?
Age banding (along with the implicit using of banding for censoring -- no kisses before 13! No divorce before 11! No death before 9! No GLBT ever!) is voiced in terms of limiting choices, not opening up a world. Yet, FCB uses language that says the existence of YA lit is itself limiting. And for that, I have to disagree; and the only thing I can really point to is my own experiences as a reader, and what I observe with others, and it's all in the US, so FCB may be entirely right for the UK. I don't know.
FCB recalls teenagers going from children's lit to adult lit, and worries that today's teens are being kept from that adult lit. He also seems to be saying that good YA books are really adult books with a bad label.
As a lifelong reader, my choices have always been varied. At ten I was reading adult fiction; but I was also reading children's lit. It was never an either/or; and there was never a "don't read this," either at home, in a bookstore, or in a library. So yes, I did read adult lit as a teen; but I see today's teens doing likewise, reading a bit from here, a bit from there.
As for what YA lit has become.... I look at what we have now and get angry and jealous that I didn't have the reading choices as a teen that teens have today. I recall looking at adult shelves to try to find something that was teen friendly -- so some of my adult book reading was not a choice, but a default. I would have loved to have the books that are available today; and I hope that these books don't go away.
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