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Guardian Revieww

Frank Cottrell Boyce, reviewing The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (both Boyce and Ness are longlisted for the Guardian Prize) has this to say about Young Adult fiction, with referecne to the current controversy about agebanding:

...The rural setting, the presence of the river and the pursuit will make you think of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Night of the Hunter

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....

It's the penultimate two snetences of this quotoation from the review, surely, that cut home most tellingly.


Julie thank you for your kind comment. It was a welcome balm as I got some fairly violent negative reactions from the YA community this morning! I thought I'd post again and say I love lots of YA and this article was in fact a blistering five star review for a YA book. My worry is not that readers are not adventurous - they are. Or that libraries and bookshops shouldn't direct readers a bit - they should. But that if demographics get ingrained in the DNA of publishers and writers, well that becomes very narrowing. I'm not talking theoretically. I'm talking as someone who works in the very demographic-driven film industry. Go to your multiplex and see if that's how you want your bookshop to look

Frank, your comments are among the most intelligent and pertinent in this whole debate. I've long argued that if Austen and the Brontes, and so many others, were published today they'd be relegated to YA shelves, sidelined out of mainstream literature. Children's - and especially YA - fiction is a modern publishing concept, created by the industry as a means to 'niche market' books. Writers, as you say, don't write for niches - we write books. What bothers so many of us in this debate is the way that the growth of niche marketing (and age-banding is another step towards the hinterland) increasingly ringfences children and teenagers to the edges of our culture. That, as you argue so eloquently, is a loss in so many ways.

Loved your image of books strolling out of their niches!

Worried that this extract reads like I'm slagging off Young Adult fiction. I'm not. There's a lot of brilliant stuff in this category - I mentioned Malorie Blackman. I loved Catherine Forde's Skarrs and on and on. But I think the demographic is disastrous. Even its name's a lie. A sixteen year old is not a young adult except in the most appalling circumstances. Try asking one to do your catering for a week.

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This page contains a single entry by achuka published on June 14, 2008 8:12 PM.

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