On YA + Sophistication

Oh, hi there, ASkars. via EWI have a confession: I am an avid reader of Entertainment Weekly.

I love EW. So much so that I am perpetually mad at my letter carrier for delivering it several days late. (I’m convinced he’s reading it in his postal truck.)

Love. It.

Honestly, most of the time I don’t know who the hell they’re talking about, but there’s something delightful ridiculous about the whole magazine. However, in the midst of all the ridiculousness, there’s actually a pretty decent book section. I know, right? Who knew? Stephen Lee is pretty knowledgeable about young adult novels in particular, and I usually really enjoy his pieces in the magazine and on the EW blog

However, as a paged through last week’s issue, I was disheartened to read some pretty disappointing comments about young adult fiction in a short feature (not available online, sorry) about authors that usually write in the adult category making the move to YA. There were several comments with the undertone that YA literature is “easier” or less sophisticated, but the one that really struck me was from Elizabeth George, who said, 

My adult novels, plot-wise and linguistically, are very complicated. I had to alter that and create a much more straightforward way of telling my story.

—Elizabeth George in Entertainment Weekly

Excuse me?!

I’m reserving judgement on George specifically, because I don’t know in what context her statement was made (like I said, it was a brief piece), though it ruffles my feathers immensely that an author would say that YA novels need to be toned down from adult fiction.

However, I hate, hate, hate that this common assumption that YA is somehow a lesser category because of the audience, that the targeted audience—teens—need simplistic plots and uncomplicated language. This is something that permeates so many mainstream takes on young adult fiction, when columnists decry that adults shouldn’t be reading “kids’ books.” 

Like I said, I’m not pointing this out to pick on Elizabeth George—that’s not my style. (Actually, I was hoping someone else would notice this in EW and gripe about it so I wouldn’t have to.) Rather, it’s something that’s accepted as fact so often that at this point, comments like that infuriate me. I cannot begin to count the number of times that I’ve recommended a YA book to someone and then when they find out it’s a “teenager book,” they’ve wrinkled their nose like they’re in the presence of microwaved fish.* It’s silly and wrong-headed. 

Let’s say it all together: 

YA Fiction is not dumbed-down, simplified, adult fiction; it is fiction targeted to teens.

These books are take on a number of common themes, but beyond that, they’re all over the place in terms of writing, plot structure and character development—just like books for adults.

Sometimes these novels are complex, sometimes they’re tough reads, sometimes they’re easy-breezy, quickie reads. Just like adult fiction, YA takes many forms. There is absolutely nothing inherent in YA fiction that makes it simplistic or easy. Nothing.

Things I Know About YA Fiction

  • Some of it is really, really sophisticated (i.e. anything written by Melina Marchetta, Courtney Summers or C.K. Kelly Martin). 
  • Some of it is quick and fun and light.
  • Some of it deals with tough social issues.
  • Some of it tackles the finding a date for prom.
  • Some of it takes you on a winding, twisting trip through the plot, never letting you see what’s around the corner.
  • Some of it sends you on a straight path through the story.
  • Some of it is very linguistically complex.
  • Some of it is simple or sparse.
  • Some of it is great.
  • Some of it isn’t.

I could say the exact same things about adult fiction.

Well, not the prom part, but definitely the finding a date part. 

Let’s stop with these silly proclamations, okay?

Especially from authors. 

When I read George’s comment, I rolled my eyes so far back in my head, it’s a miracle I didn’t cause myself permanent vision damage. Good freaking grief.

As as adult, what upsets me most is that by making statements like this, adults are diminishing actual young adults by making the assumption that teens need their books simplified and dumbed down. Like folks from every age group, some teens want or need simpler stories to read, some want or need heftier stories, some want or need a bit of both. That’s why there’s variety.

There’s got to be a reason why YA is so popular right now, and it can’t be because we’re all suddenly less capable of following a plot or understanding big words.

Personally, I read a fair amount of young adult fiction because I have a hard time finding adult novels with themes that appeal to me. If more adult novels were like C.K. Kelly Martin’s Come See About Me (like how I worked in a plug for that rad novel, y’all?), I would probably read more adult fiction. But, alas, that’s not the case. 

Plus, there’s a lot some authors of fiction for adults could learn about character development, pacing and tight writing from many today’s young adult novels. Ahem.


*Who hasn’t worked in an office with the Obnoxious Fish Microwaver? Seriously, people, save the fish microwaving for the comfort of your own home.

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