So it looks like we’ve gotten to that fun part of the year again where everyone wants to take a swipe at YA because it’s the easy option.
Yesterday, it was the turn of TES columnist and English teacher turned Educational Consultant, Joe Nutt, to declare war on young adult literature in spectacularly spiteful fashion. Describing YA as a ‘dangerous fantasy’, he managed to insult readers, librarians, bloggers, authors and writers in one fell swoop.
Mr Nutt believes that young adult literature is preventing young people from becoming “genuinely literate adults“, which is interesting because the very definition of literate is to be able to read and write. The people he’s referring to clearly are reading, just not necessarily the material that Joe would seemingly shove in their direction.
The article also seems to have a problem with the terminology itself, stating that there is simply no such thing as young adulthood because the author didn’t experience it. In that case, how can it possibly exist? I’ve never been to the Empire State Building, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, my friend.
The logic just keeps on rolling with the following statement:
“Several generations of teenagers, especially boys, have been effectively prevented from ever becoming literate adults by a publishing industry that has decided young adult readers have an insatiable appetite for what amounts to nothing more than gossip fodder.”
It is in fact, true that it is more difficult to engage boys in reading when compared to their female counterparts. Perhaps that’s because they’re being recommended books about 18th century America by Fanny Trollope on BBC Radio 4 or being told that young adult books couldn’t possibly be relevant to them? As Juno Dawson so eloquently put in her response article, to make a statement like this suggests that “there is only one one way to be a boy”. At best, it’s poor research and at worst, casual sexism.
Off of the top of my head, I can think of at least ten young adult authors who write books that aren’t exclusively read by or aimed at one gender. Patrick Ness, Philip Reeve, Melvin Burgess, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth and Kevin Brooks (among many others) all write fantastic books that run a gamut of topics from space, to religion, to technology, to mythology, to friendship, to family to science.
Considering the sheer breadth and depth of YA literature, I can only assume that the reason why the teenage boys in Joe Nutt’s English class didn’t like reading was because he was forcing James Joyce upon them when really, all they might have needed was a taste of Percy Jackson or The Fifth Wave.
Equally, there are some young people (gender regardless) who may never want to pick up a book no matter the author or subject matter. I don’t like salad cream. You get over it.
The overarching problem with this article is not the half-hearted arguments that are made, but rather the snob-tastic tone with which the whole of the piece is written. It reads as if YA books are akin to an enthusiastic, but ultimately dumb pet dog.
To suggest that the entirety of fiction produced for teenagers is little more than gossip column fodder and “self-harming vampires” (wow, can you say offensive?) is what really pushed me to write this post. It’s common knowledge that in all genres, there are bad apples, but if you’re going to tar that genre with your one lonely brush then at least be ready with a bank of examples to back up your arguments.
“If I were a publisher I would be asking some serious questions about the cultural value and validity of the young adult fiction agents are peddling. I would be asking them where are those vital books for teenagers that introduce them to the real, adult world?”
Young adult literature does not need me to fight it’s corner: it’s thriving and the backlash this article has already provoked tells a better story than I ever could. People who actually read young adult books know that it’s a progressive genre full of authors championing diversity, taking down taboos and helping people to feel less alone. Authors from Holly Bourne and Malorie Blackman to Sarah J. Maas and Louise O’Neill are using their work to talk frankly about topics like society, feminism, racism, rape, sex and mental health. If that doesn’t count as introducing teenagers to the “real, adult world” then I’d like to throw my hat into the ring and question what does.
I’m 24 and young adult books STILL teach me about the real, adult world.
I don’t much like the classics, but I would never write a post saying that they aren’t worth reading. I believe that any book that encourages someone to pick up one more, whether it’s George Orwell’s 1984, or Louise Rennison’s Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging is worthy of praise. Dead, white men will continue to dominate the school curriculum in the UK and whilst the government closes libraries and the media pull coverage of children’s books, I can’t believe that there are genuinely people out there worrying about what young people are reading? Surely the important thing is that they’re reading at all.
If they’re reading, they’re on their way to being “genuinely literate adults”. Turns out they just don’t need Joe Nutt’s Guide to Paradise Lost to do it.