Sunday!

It feels like, when I was a kid, Young Adult meant something like “22 years old, married for a year, either freshly out of college or in the workforce for a few months/homemaking”. Now it means “14 years old, reading dystopias”.

Which makes me think about what chords are being strummed in the whole YA thing?

There are a ton of books (series, even) that strike chords within the YA market that have nothing to do with dystopias, of course. Harry Potter, for example. Twilight. John Green’s entire oeuvre. Judy Blume! Oh my gosh, Judy Blume.

So it’s not like you’ve got a huge glut of only dystopias (or fantasy, for that matter) out there as young adult fiction. It’s just that when there is yet another hit series that comes out, it seems like you’ve got a 50/50 shot of it relying on either the supernatural or on various young adults living in dystopias. By contrast, if there’s a hit one-shot, however, it seems to be most likely to be a romance kinda thing.

Which, I suppose, makes sense. What chords are most begging to be strummed in the YA heart?

Well, there’s the “escapist fantasy” thing. There’s the “holy cow, adult society is so very messed up and HOW CAN THEY NOT SEE THIS?” thing. And, of course, the whole “oh my gosh oh my gosh that one person in my class has the cutest smile I’ve ever seen, how come my stomach feels like a soccerball in the middle of a game whenever they walk in the room?” thing.

And if you can write a book (or a series!) that relies rather heavily on strumming one of those chords, you’ve got yourself something that is likely to do very well. Heck, mix two of them together and you’ve got yourself the makings of a hit series.

Leaving me to wonder “when in the heck did Young Adult switch from 22 to 14?”

So… what are you reading and/or watching?


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Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

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30 thoughts on “Sunday!

  1. I remember “young adult” being used to describe books aimed at middle and high school students at least back as far as the mid-80s, which is as far back as my literate memories go.

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  2. The entire adults reading YA fiction is interesting. I think one of the stranger things about is that since these books are officially for YA certain themes like sex need to be handled indirectly. You can imply a lot but you can’t actual have a couple of pages describing characters doing the deed or at least publishers still won’t let you have it. I’d think that more adult readers would want some more direct handling of certain themes and the ability to read about two characters they really want to ship have sex.

    On a somewhat related topic, I’m reading House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution. Its really about many of the Bolsheviks behind the Russian Revolution and how they were so devoted to their project that they willing confessed to crimes they didn’t commit during Stalin’s reign of terror because it was for the good of the Revolution. One thing that anybody with a little bit of in-depth knowledge of the Bolsheviks knows is that many of them were very young when they were radicalized. Most of them were teenagers and in gymnasium, the Russian Empire’s equivalent of the American high school. This isn’t really that unusual, as I mentioned in the most recent Linky Friday, is that radical movements on the Right and the Left often use the passion of young people.

    What is kind of unusual is that the Anglophone world in general and the United States in particular seems to be kind of skilled at not producing large numbers of radicalized young people. Even during the most politically turbulent times in American or other Anglophone history like the 1960s, most people in their teens and twenties seemed more focused on having a good time (varyingly defined by era) than radical politics of any sort. Most countries and eras don’t produce youths as radical as the Russian empire teens that became the Bolsheviks but they do tend to create a greater percentage of youth more drawn to radical politics than Anglophone countries. I’m wondering why that is.

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  3. I will split the difference between you and Brandon and say I am familiar with young adult being used both ways.

    Count me as another person who does not get the whole legion of adults who are extremely passionate about YA literature.

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    • A lot of the adults extremely passionate about YA seems strongly linked with the Social Justice/Identity Politics part of the Left. Its the same group that vigorously defends genre fiction over literary fiction. Literary fiction or adult fiction is somehow identified with a subset of the population they hate, cerebral cis-gendered white heterosexual men, and YA with groups they like even though that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

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      • Hey LeeEsq,
        No politics pls, it’s Mindless Diversions and assigning hatred to groups of people about other groups of people is definitely not on the agenda. Trust, there is much I could say on this topic and I just deleted all of it before posting this. If you push further, I’ll delete your comment as well.

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    • I’d compare it to the way so many adults listen to, and have passionate feelings about, music aimed at teenagers. Even as a classical music lover, I don’t listen to what’s written as serious music these days, because it’s largely academic and aimed at a small audience of academics and aficionados. When the “artists” ignore their audience, they get ignored right back.

      Apropos, RIP Walter Becker, one of the true artists among popular musicians.

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      • Are you thinking of pop /rock music in general or specific acts like Taylor Swift?

        There is a lot of rock music aimed at adults and much of it is good. No more “adult contemporary” stuff. Wilco is now known as Dad rock after all. Bands like Sleater-Kinney have a now middle aged fan base.

        And I frankly have a hard time putting Murakami, Michael Chabon, Jennifer Eagen, Hari Kunzru, etc. in the same category as modern experimental classical music.

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  4. I’m almost done hate-almost-not-watching Iron Fist (hard to say more without being political, but I wish someone would make a Night Nurse / Colleen Wing show, and let Iron Fist fade from view except for cameos), and I’ve just started reading The Hate U Give, about 5 chapters in.
    (It’s exceptionally well written, and code switches so often and so fluidly that it doesn’t even really stick out except when the author deliberately wants it to.)

    Once I finish Iron Fist, it’ll be on to the Defenders.

    As someone who reads a ton of YA lit (along with a ton of other stuff), my best guess as to why it’s so popular is that a) a lot of writers had a rough time as kids and thus want to write books for the kids they were – which means a lot of really brilliant writers have confined themselves to the genre – or really to the genre*s* – the folks writing dystopias *could* be churning out adult thrillers but generally don’t want to. And b) the nature of teenagers means that YA lit can feature both heightened emotions and self-absorption of the protagonist more naturally and less irritatingly than adult books. Both of those things are both comforting/cathartic for readers (or can be when handled well), both of those things tend to seem overly over-the-top or 4-color in adult novels. There’s a fair amount of overlap between the appeals of superhero comics and YA novels, actually, regardless of the YA novels’ genres… though there are certainly also YA novels that are only of interest b/c of a) and would otherwise be just as classifiable as adult fiction….

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    • I think there’s a lot to be said about the idea of protagonists in YA novels being more natural and less irritating than those in adult fiction.

      I often find myself put off by media that features protagonists my age or older, because my natural reaction to seeing them go through struggles is irritation that they don’t just get that shit figured out like normal adults should be able to. By contrast, I’m sympathetic when teenagers have messy dramatic lives because that’s how being a teenager works.

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      • I find a lot of the characters in YA fiction to be irritating. They can’t seem to stay focused on the task and get distracted by romance/sex. Then again, I could never stand “we hot young things will stand up to the forces of evil and be sexy at it.”

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        • “can’t seem to stay focused on the task and get distracted by romance/sex” describes like 95% of protagonists in the stuff I’ve read or watched, whether it was about teens or adults. And that’s a character trait that’s a lot more tolerable when it comes from teens.

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          • Most of the books I read are literary fiction rather than genre fiction so having to save the world isn’t the usual plot point. When having to save the world is a plot point, I want more moral discipline from the characters.

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    • I can’t remember if I saw this on the Atlantic or Vox but I read that there is now a thing where teenagers are going to their own secret corners of the net to discuss YA books.

      They do this because adult fans get angry about YA books not hitting the right political notes and the discussions become hate feats. Sometimes for books that are not published yet.

      I think this is nuts.

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  5. When I was a preteen and teen, I used to read the following types of literature that I considered, and that I think the publishers/libraries/bookstores considered, “young adult”:

    1. Science-fiction-y stuff and horror-fiction-y stuff
    2. Teens getting into improbable adventures with bad people (but in the end nothing super horrible really happens and good wins out)
    3. quasi-fictional (some even non-fictional) accounts of dealing with abuse or alcoholism or depression
    4. “problem novels” and coming of age stuff, like Judy Blume and similar authors.

    My favorites tended to be number 3 and 4.

    ETA: At around 16 or 17 I had a religious conversion experience and read a lot fewer “secular” works, which meant I read a lot fewer “young adult” literature in general.

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    • Huh. “Problem novels,” which my local public library had in vast supply, where what kind of put me off reading in my teens, until I discovered “classic” literature.

      I also remember a category of fictionalized historical novels (e.g. “My Brother Sam is Dead”) and I remember liking those, even if some were pretty inaccurate.

      (My first foray into novels in the “adult” section was a bad choice – it was filled with graphic sex and anatomical descriptions, and, at 13, my conclusion was, “If this was what adults read, maybe reading is not for me.” I still have a little test for any new-to-me author: flip to three random passages and if one is a graphic sex scene, it goes back on the shelf. I have never read any Diana Gabaldon, no matter how good my friends say her books are….)

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      • I REALLY enjoyed the “problem novels,” maybe because I thought they spoke to me. I was embarrassed at the time and tried to hide the fact that I liked what I liked (even now, I feel a little self-conscious about admitting having read them). I remember being teased by a bully for reading Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret. He joked that I was a guy reading about having my period. In retrospect, I realize the most likely explanation for him knowing the plot was that he probably had read it himself. (I sometimes wonder what happened to him. He was one of those really intelligent people who did poorly at school and picked on people like me. I hope he turned out okay.)

        Surprisingly, given my views about the topic, I’ve never finished My Brother Sam Is Dead. I tried to recently–about a year ago or so–but I just couldn’t finish it.

        My exposure to so-called “classical literature” was fitful. I got it in some of my English classes. At about the age that I would have read more was the age of my religious “conversion,” and most of the “classics” I considered secular or “pagan.” But I gradually stated reading them by my senior year in high school.

        I occasionally read for surreptitious voyeurism some of the adult romance novels laying around the house. However, the Reader’s Digest and the encyclopedia were my most common sources for readings that addressed the type of curiosity a straight pre-adolescent like me had.

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