I’ve gotten into the habit of reading lots of non-fiction stuff online, especially after I started going to university; books, reviews, articles etc. The Internet being the internet, every once in a while I’ll stumble across something that pisses me off for various reasons.
The latest thing to get my blood boiling is an article published in Slate Magazine called “Against YA: Adults should be embarrassed to like kid’s books”. The title alone should tell you why I, and so many others, have attacked this article so vehemently. It was published just before the release of the movie adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars. This was obviously no coincidence. What better time to stir up controversy about the popularity of young adult literature?
First, let me talk about the stuff the author said that I agree with, and then we’ll get to the fun part. Yes, I do agree that adults shouldn’t read too much YA novels; they shouldn’t read too much of any one genre, at all. I love fantasy and sci-fi novels, but I also read comic books, non-fiction, “classic” literature, and “mainstream” fiction. Like food, everyone should have as varied a diet as possible; otherwise they are denying themselves so many good stories. It’s the same reason I wish my mom wold read something else once in a while besides romance novels.
And yes, Ms. Ruth Graham, I *do* think you are a snob and old-fashioned. You clearly haven’t gone to the library enough; please go to the nearest one at your earliest convenience.
Now, Ms. Graham’s biggest mistake is to claim that, because YA fiction is aimed at a demographic that has not yet reached emotional and mental maturity, all YA writers rely on using stereotypical characters, simple plots and neat, happy endings to entertain their readers. She says that Twilight and Divergent can’t hold a candle to Charles Dickens and Edith Wharton, and that she has outgrown the books of her youth. YA books are fine to get kids and teens into the habit of reading, but kids should become invested in more “literary” books as soon as possible, to make them into more well-rounded readers and thinkers.
Okay, I hate it when someone takes a small sample of a media or genre I enjoy and makes negative generalizations about the entire thing; you could apply this woman’s arguments to animation, comics and fantasy novels, and it would still be just as wrong.
Anything would look better next to Twilight. The Da Vinci Code is a better book than Twilight; that doesn’t mean that action/thriller/conspiracy theory stories are better than supernatural romances, or that the book is a great one. If you’re going to compare two categories of books/stories, do it fairly.
Second, Ms. Graham states that adults who read YA novels are promoting immaturity. Okay, that argument would only be convincing if all YA books were as shallow and/or bad as she thinks they are, and two, that adults are reading nothing but YA books. That first assumption is clearly untrue, and there’s no way she could support her second one. And, as many people in the comments section have pointed out, many books written for adults can be argued to be just as badly written as YA. I’m sure she’s aware of this, but I don’t recall her mentioning it.
I have all of Shakespeare’s plays, Don Quixote and Tom Sawyer on my bookshelf. I’m as “literary” as you can get. I also still watch Looney Tunes, Disney movies, and yes, I still read YA books. Just because something’s made for kids, doesn’t mean that adults can’t enjoy it too. Good stories stay with you you’re whole life. I can prove this, and blow Ms. Ruth’s assumptions to pieces at the same time, with just one example.
I first read The Secret of NIMH when I was 12; it’s still one of my favorite books. Yeah, on one level it’s about a group talking animals saving themselves from the Evil Humans. It’s also about man’s relationship with nature, and how our advancing technology has changed our relationship. It’s also about the complex ethics of genetic engineering; clearly the rats and mice have benefited from their enhanced intelligence and longer life-spans brought about by NIMH’s experiments, but at the same time, you could argue that the scientist’s handling of the animals was cruel and inhumane. A large chunk of the book is devoted to the leader of the rats, Nicodemus, explaining to Mrs. Frisby about how the rats escaped NIMH and came to develop their own society in the rosebush near her home, developing their own tools and form of government as well. It is fascinating stuff, if a little on the dry side. But this story is hardly lowest common denominator material. The author even based NIMH on real scientists and real experiments which were being conducted at the time he wrote the book. You could use this book to introduce kids to bioethics, sociology or anthropology, at least. Parts of this book wouldn’t be out of place in college level courses. Or at least I think so.
So shame on you, Ms. Ruth; shame on you for insulting authors like J.K. Rowling, Robert C. O’ Brien, Rick Rordian, Lois Lowry, and so many others, who have entertained generations of kids. Shame on you for insulting your audience, and shame on you for outgrowing the books that made you fall in love with reading in the first place. That is not the proper attitude of a book lover. Good stories should be cherished for your whole life, including the ones that you grew up with, the ones you read today and the ones you read tomorrow.
To celebrate great kid’s stories, here’s six pieces of kid/young adult entertainment (across multiple mediums) that any adult can enjoy without the slightest bit of shame.
Animaniacs is easily one of my favorite cartoon shows of all time. It is, in my opinion, the true successor to Looney Tunes for the Millenial generation; it re-created what made the classic Looney Tunes shorts so great: a brilliant blend of slapstick, witty dialogue, pop culture references and social commentary. It’s something that kids and adults can both love equally.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender
Avatar is an old story told in a fresh way. A young boy named Aang must undergo the Hero’s Journey in a rich, unique fantasy setting inspired by a lot of different aspects of Asian mythology and culture. The show tackles complex and mature themes like the negative consequences of war, genocide, imperialism, love and duty to one’s family, and placing responsibility over personal desire. Awesome action scenes, a great cast of characters, and gorgeous animation, what’s not to like? Also check out its sequel series The Legend of Korra.
- Bone by Jeff Smith
As one reviewer put it, Bone is what happens when you cross Pogo with Lord of the Rings. It’s just as awesome and weird as it sounds. The cousins Fone Bone, Smiley Bone and Phoney Bone help a girl named Thorn realize her destiny and stop an ancient evil known as the Lord of the Locusts from destroying the Valley. It’s the only all-ages comic book I’ve read, and it makes me want to read more of the same.
- The Iron Giant
I could’ve gone the easy route and picked a Disney movie to put on here, but I think this movie is underrated, even if it does have a large cult following among animation fans. Directed by Brad Bird before he joined Pixar, it tells the classic story of a boy and his giant robot. Hogarth Hughes is one of the most likeable kid heroes of all time, in my opinion. I like the fact that he’s explicitly shown to be a comic book and sci-fi movie geek as well as being a good student, yet he talks and acts just like any other kid. He’s smart and quirky, but not precocious, a mini-adult or so weird that he’s annoying. The uniqueness and “realness” of the main characters really make this movie stand out.
- Percy Jackson series
I had to put a book series on this list somewhere, so here we go. Although this story starts off as another Harry Potter clone, it quickly morphs into something unique. Not only does Percy Jackson discover that the gods, heroes and monsters of Greek mythology are real, he is in fact a demi-god (a son of Poseidon, to be exact), and he must stop the titan Kronos from resurrecting and destroying the world with the help of his friends and fellow demi-gods. The movies really don’t do the books justice. I’ve heard really good things about the sequel series Heroes of Olympus too, so be sure to clear your schedules.
- The Sandlot
Doug Walker said it best; this movie is really underrated, and it’s an American classic. Sure, a large part of the story revolves around baseball; but you don’t need to be a sports fan to love this movie. It tells a universal coming-of-age story about Scotty Smalls, a small, shy kid who bonds with a bunch of other boys over summer break through playing an endless baseball game on the local sandlot. I find Smalls really relatable, and being a baseball fan just enhances my love for this movie. It also contains a very memorable cameo by James Earl Jones.