There is a short OpEd piece from the New York Times making the rounds on my twitter feed. It’s all about how the author thinks that adults should read adult books and leave the YA to the pre-teen girls. I’m not going to link to it, because such a ridiculous and obviously baiting statement doesn’t need any more traffic than it’s already getting. And while I realize that his opinion is ridiculous and obviously baiting, there was something else about it that caught me up short. The author states that he himself is embarrassed when he sees adults reading YA and seems to somehow believe that his personal embarrassment should jump from him to the reader. He clearly finds his feelings and opinions to be more valid or informed than that of the poor soul caught up in what he assumes to be a poorly written dystopian world.
I grew up in a pretty small town and I am very familiar with this kind of skewed mutual embarrassment. The kind of embarrassment that you don’t really feel until you realize that the other person thinks that you should be embarrassed. Then you’re almost obliged to give in to it out of propriety. It took me moving away to college and several years of making poor decisions based on the wants of others to realize that this embarrassment was a thing that I could actually control. Without getting too deep into the philosophy of it, I had the all too mundane realization that I am my own person and free to make my own choices. What a relief that is, to know that I can do things that make me happy and not have to answer to anyone else with a twig up their hind end about my happiness.
I recently got a pretty daring haircut, for me anyway. (I always want to go for the fauxhawk, and I always remind myself that I’m not quite that cool yet.) While the response to it has been largely favorable I can still hear my mother and the people I left behind in that small town commenting on it in my head. How silly and frivolous all of these brain phantoms find me. Why don’t I just grow up? Why don’t I stop wasting my time on concerts and writing stories about steampunk vampires in space and playing around on my movie podcast? Why don’t I settle down and have children and buy a house like an adult? I do wonder if the writer of the New York Times piece would agree with these voices. And then I remember that it doesn’t matter, because I’m happy. I can read YA in public. I can wear ridiculous clothing. I can get all the stupid haircuts I want, and anyone who wants to bring my happiness down must not find as much joy in such things as I do and therefor really aren’t worth my time.
I’m preaching to the choir here, but YA is a LARGE umbrella. Stephanie Meyer is not JK Rowling is not John Green is not RL Stine. If you don’t like Twilight (paranormal romance) that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy Looking for Alaska (young adult literary). If you don’t like Harry Potter (fantasy) then you might like Goosebumps (horror). Just like in adult books, there are different shades of YA literature with different intended audiences. Honestly, while I wish I’d had Looking for Alaska as a teen, its message still rings true to me in my adult life and I’m very glad to have been able to read it. I don’t personally think I could work in YA, given the types of stories I’m tempted to tell, but I greatly admire the writers who do. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is one of the most devastating and beautiful books I’ve ever read, and it’s only made better by the fact that it’s accessible to a younger crowd.
I almost pity people with the attitude of the New York Times piece. How heavy must all of those societal restrictions they’ve built up around themselves be? How boring must their very serious adult conversations become after a while as they circle around in the same, stagnant pools of approachable thought? I think they must miss out on an awful lot, with their lists of approved reading and watching and listening. It’s one thing to find something simply not to your taste, but it’s another thing entirely to look down on a whole genre simply because of the way it’s marketed. Hey, if you try something find you don’t like it, at least you’ve given it a go and not written it off from the start.
I’m going home in two weeks. I’m going to flaunt my ridiculous haircut absolutely everywhere and take pride in having allowed myself to become who I wanted to be, even as the adults around me try to make me someone else.