A roundup of significant YA titles selected by Ellen Tannan
A roundup of significant YA titles selected by Ellen Tannan
So what on earth could I have against kids reading YA, which at least generally includes characters of the ‘right’ age?
Partly, it’s because many of them aren’t, in fact, properly adult books. Of course there are great YA writers – Meg Rosoff, Patrick Ness, Mal Peet, Phil Earle, Sarah Crossan, Faye Bird, Jo Nadin and many others, who are among our finest contemporary writers, irrespective of age or genre. But too much of the rest is dross, presenting watered down, bowdlerised versions of life, selling kitsch ideas and witlessly soft-focus romantic reflections of reality – and yes, I’m looking at you, John Green.
YA genre fiction (SF and fantasy) is particularly anaemic. The endless lazy dystopias, with kick-ass heroines saving the world from some unconvincing mega government, the sexy vampire bullshit, the boringly overdone quirky superhero novel – please, no more. Honestly, the kids would be far better off encountering adult SF and fantasy, where their minds might be stretched, rather than their preconceptions cosily nurtured.
the full piece via YA or Not YA – Barrington Stoke.
To bursts of nervous laughter, YA author Anthony McGowan kicked it off by citing Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of YA was crap, pandered to by an audience that treated the whole thing as a “this kind of amorphous quasi religion”, more of a cult than category. He lamented speaking to “monocultural audiences” of white, older women at YA conferences. Some misogynistic, cause-and-effect musing began: most YA bloggers were women, all his editors were women, “so there is a huge amount of energy directing these kinds of texts, texts that may well appeal to women in their 20s and 30s rather than to teenagers. We’ve got this female-dominated world producing texts that reflect themselves, for other young adult women,” he said, perhaps unaware of the significance of making links between gender and perceived quality.
YA may not be a genre (it is a category, as is so often sighed), but the debate devolved into a value judgment regardless, as debates around genre so often do. “I don’t think adults should read YA stuff,” McGowan argued, as authors such as Elizabeth Wein and Philip Womack disagreed. “I think they should move on and read Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky or Dickens and stop reading Twilight and The Hunger Games,” McGowan said. “It is part of being a grown-up, you leave those things behind.”
You should also read McGowan’s more nuanced take on this subject here:
Wild Words Children’s Book Festival has rapidly gained its reputation as Ireland’s best Young Adult (YA) writing festival.This is primarily because Wild Words has attracted teenagers back to books and because the festival has picked up on the zeitgeist; a golden age for young adult books. Extraordinarily talented writers like Sarah Crossan, Dave Rudden and Eilís Barrett who are all part of this new wave underpin the reputation of the festival.With masterclasses, workshops, readings and other activities, the festival has plenty for every age group. This year however, with a wealth of new titles hitting the bookshelves, there is a strong emphasis on books for young adults.When Dave Rudden was at Wild Words last year he had just signed a six-figure book deal with Puffin. Those in attendance got a sneak preview of Knights of the Borrowed Dark. It has since been published – and it’s great. Rudden has been noted as “an author to watch” and Knights of the Borrowed Dark described as “a pacy, entertaining read, but with a heart, too.”It’s been a great year for Sarah Crossan too. Her new novel One, which tells the story of conjoined twins Grace and Tippi, has earned her the Bookseller’s Young Adult Book Prize, the Children’s Books Ireland Book of the Year and the CILIP Carnegie Medal. For Wild Words Sarah will be giving a masterclass and appearing alongside first time author Eilís Barrett, who at 16 years of age has already published her first novel Oasis, fulfilling one of her life ambitions. Oasis tells the story of Quincy Emerson, a young girl who is on the run because she carries the X gene that causes a virus that nearly wiped out the human race. The book is gripping and all aspiring young authors will want to meet this remarkable young woman.
Not sure I agree with Anthony McGowan when he says, “Some of these books appeal to me, as an adult, because they are not teenage books at all.”
He seems to be discounting the possibility that teenage or YA fiction is capable of also satisfying an adult reader.
Just because I, an adult, enjoy reading a particular YA novel, doesn’t make it any less YA.
I’m currently reading RADIO SILENCE by Alice Oseman, a novel deeply embedded in teen experience and culture. It’s very clearly not a book that would have been suited to a publisher’s adult fiction list, but that doesn’t prevent it being a good adult as well as a good teen read.
So what’s the problem? Well, I’d contend that at least some of these books appeal to me, as an adult, because they are not teenage books at all. They are adult fiction. The themes, the style, often even the characters belong in the world of adult literature. It is just some quirk of publishing that has left them washed up on the YA shore. For example, Mal Peet’s masterpiece, Life: An Exploded Diagram, was simply the best novel I read in 2011. It should have been up for the Booker prize. It was published as YA because Mal had always been published as YA.
Alongside these many fine novels there is plenty of dross. As with most areas of publishing, YA follows the 90% rule. And much YA is a lazy, disheartening mush of false problems, fake solutions, idealised romance, second-rate fantasy, tired dystopias. Easy to read; easy to forget.
But my main concern isn’t with quality. For me, the problem is that a huge amount of theoretically teenage publishing is churning out books that simply aren’t for teenagers at all. And that must mean, given the finite opportunities for new books, that “real” teenage books aren’t getting published.
The question of safety came up early in a discussion about promoting my new book, Nightwanderers. Was it responsible, I asked my publicist and editor, to show teenage girl friends creeping from their bedrooms after dark, to wander their home turf in the moonlight?
It’s something I did as a teenager with one of the friends who inspired the character of Titania De Furia. She led me, breathless, through the deluxe garden of her rich neighbour, past his babbling rush of brook, and with cool, dewy air on our faces, we were giggling and tickled and free.
The reaction in the print press to Burgess winning the Carnegie Medal for JUNK in 1997 was one of the motivating forces behind the establishment of ACHUKA. At that time there was some online coverage of American children’s/YA literature but hardly anything existed in the UK.
So that summer I taught myself HTML and launched ACHUKA in September, as a vehicle for celebrating and advocating children’s books and, especially, teen fiction.
The Bookseller will present Melvin Burgess with a YA Book Prize special achievement award to mark 20 years since the publication of Junk.
Published in 1996 by Andersen Press, Junk follows the lives of Gemma and Tar, two teenagers who become involved in drugs and prostitution. Based on Burgess’ own experience of living in Bristol during the punk era, the book went on to become a cult classic.
The novel was a key proponent in the inception and growth of the UK’s Young Adult market and movement, but Burgess says he “was the right person doing the right thing at the right time”.
He explained: “Junk and its success showed that the prevailing attitude to teenagers at the time—which was ‘they don’t read’—could be broken if only the right material was available. People had been talking about the developing teenage market for years, and Junk was certainly a big push in that process.”
Burgess will be presented with the award at the YA Book Prize ceremony, at the Hay Festival on 2nd June. Andersen Press is also releasing a 20th anniversary edition of the novel, with an introduction by Malorie Blackman and the correspondence between author and publisher.
Teenage fiction reviewed by Geraldine Brennan
The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner (Andersen Press, £7.99) is a richly textured tale set in small-town Tennessee where the sins of Dill’s father, a disgraced and imprisoned evangelist minister, are visited relentlessly upon his son. Dill and his mother are social pariahs living in poverty, while Dill’s friend Lydia, a fashion blogger heading for New York after high school, considers him a project. The gulf between their likely futures is the pink elephant in the back seat of Lydia’s car, which shelters Dill and the equally unfortunate Travis from the storms brewed by their elders. The universal highs, lows and power shifts in friendship are played out by three compelling characters until tragedy brings loyalty to the fore.
Other titles reviewed in the full piece:
The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil
Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan
Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff
Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit
Libby Armstrong, a former banker from a bookselling family, has opened Beachside Bookshop at Avalon on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, the first to specialise in YA books, with about 200 titles at the front of the shop beside the adult books.
"My goal is for young adult books to come out from under children’s books," she says.
Too often they are lumped together in reading guides and bestseller lists, she says. But YA readers range from "the mature end of primary, ages 11 to 12" to adults. The older readers enjoy books aimed at ages 15-plus that can explore sexual relationships as well as universal themes of friendship, peer pressure and parents, and are well written but fast reads for busy people.
Some of the best-known figures of the literary world will gather this weekend at Smock Alley Theatre, in Dublin, for DeptCon1, a conference that celebrates and interrogates young adult (YA) fiction.
YA fiction is the largest-growing genre in contemporary fiction, accounting for almost 30 per cent of the children’s book market, according to Eason, which is organising DeptCon1. However, despite the variety of novels directed at their age group, it can be difficult to get teenagers to turn off their smartphones and pick up a book.
Elaina Ryan, director of Children’s Books Ireland, says the biggest challenge facing parents, teachers and librarians trying to encourage teenagers to read is “competition for time. When [young readers] are making the transition from primary to secondary school, all of a sudden they have much greater access to sports and clubs, the internet and screen time, and this means there are a lot more activities for them to choose from in their leisure time.