I can’t believe I missed this opinion piece by Jonathan Myer (of City University) in the middle of last week, in the wake of the Kent University controversy. The whole piece is more muddled than this extract suggests and I have the distinct impression that Myerson is not widely read in in contemporary YA fiction, especially that which is aimed at the 12-17 audience rather than the 11-13 age range to which he refers.
When I was a “young adult”, YA fiction didn’t exist and I filled my hours with Robert Louis Stevenson or Isaac Asimov. These novels held and excited us because they created scenarios where good and evil were clearly defined and rarely muddied.
I am so glad that first-rate children’s literature was there for my own children. I would not have wanted them – at 11, 12 or 13 – to confront the complexity and banality of evil. It’s quite right that they wanted to read about worlds where evil was uniformly evil and good people were constantly good. In contrast, adulthood means learning that SS officers or drone pilots do go home and kiss their wives, without a thought of belonging to the “dark side”. Equally, while you come to know how to interpret Portnoy’s self-loathing or Humbert Humbert’s witty detachment, children wouldn’t enjoy these characters or their dilemmas. The best young adult novels do bridge that sticky chasm between the undoubting days of childhood and the hedged decades of adulthood.
But there’s no avoiding the real question. Are adult novels larger than children’s novels largely because they seek to confront all these issues? Of course they are