Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I'm OK too.

Along with dozens of writers, YA and otherwise, this week, I want to talk about Margo Rabb’s piece in the Sunday Times Book Review. (and also say, if you haven't read, you should certainly read Rabb's Cures for Heartbreak, which is indeed heartbreaking, and funny and true and beautifully written)

My first instinct is to stand up for my genre, so to speak, to say that Rabb is perpetuating a snobbery that is not nearly so widespread as she thinks. But the truth is, I know exactly how she feels. The words of Mark Haddon and the defenses of Peter Cameron are scarily familiar. Apparently, if you write for an audience who is still in high school, your intellectual capacity is questionable, your literary merit dubious. You get funny looks and awkward silences and conversations come to strange halts. I was in a conversation last week in which an educator, referring to a series of books used for a particular course stated: “This one is a young adult title but I found it very valuable.”


My editor, Andrew Karre, has an approach to YA Literature that is inspiring, comforting and frankly, makes a lot of sense. He believes that “young adult is a point of view, not a reading level.” I can't help but want to ask the YA critics of the world about the novels they've celebrated that were narrated by a child or a teeanager--just not marketed to them.

I had never set out to write a young adult book before I wrote THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO TELL YOU. In fact, it began, as I’ve said before, as a book about the twins’ mother, a very dark and grown-up story. But the more I wrote, the more it changed. What I wanted to write about was intensity and passion and first times and an inability to not tell the truth. I wanted to write a story that was specific about an experience that was universal. And what, I thought, was more universal than adolescence, the raw pain and joy and experimentation. Apparently, this makes me a certain kind of writer.

And whatever kind of writer this is, maybe the kind that won’t be reviewed in The Times Literary Supplement or excerpted in The New Yorker or blurbed by Nathan Englander or Andre Aciman (I note these two authors, not because of anything they’ve ever said about YA Literature, simply because they wrote my favorite books this year), it is the kind of writer I am. I’ve found an actual home in the stories I write now. I may have to defend the literary merit of my books from here on out, but I’m hoping my audience can speak to that.


Brian said...

As someone who has just finished an MFA in Creative Writing program, I can assure you that the snobbery of which Rabb speaks is VERY much alive and well and widespread. My own academic advisor stopped taking me seriously when I mentioned I was working on a project I perceived to be young adult.

You'd think that when such literary luminaries as Joyce Carol Oates and Michael Chabon made their entries into the YA realm that the genre as a whole would have received a more venerable status or, at the very least, there would be an end to the second class citizen treatment.

But no. Writers whose work is classified as YA are still made to feel like it's something to be ashamed of, like there's no way they can be artistic if their audience hasn't achieved adulthood. And, as Rabb suggests, this comes from the most literary people out there.

But, as my mother always said, no one can make you feel bad but you. So I'm proud of Rabb for laying this out on the table and telling people whose books are being sold as YA that no one should (or can)make them feel bad. No one.

Heather said...

All true... the backlash is funny to me because Rabb is simply talking about an attitude that is out there, not supporting it... and she has some fantastic outtakes on her blog.

Micol Ostow said...

My feeling is that it's up to us to debunk all of that, as much as we can--ie: not buy into it. YA Pride!