Listening to: Muse, “Uprising”
So I spent a few days after Mockingjay‘s release avoiding all reviews and commentary on the book–third in a trilogy, I’ve been slobbering for it since last year at this time, and I had an upcoming anniversary trip (six years, baby!) for which I wanted to save the book.
And when I returned from my trip, I decided to check out some reviews here and there. I like to read reviews after, in most cases, generally to chew on others’ opinions and see how their thoughts line up with mine, and frequently to gain new insight on things.
Bad idea, in this case. Because it just got me mad.
Most of the reviews, actually, weren’t the problem. It was the comments that followed. I should have just stuck to review outlets that cater to YA and genre readers, but stupidly, I did not. So many of the comments displayed a certain cluelessness about YA in general, and of course a few threw in jabs at speculative fiction just for good measure.
I’m not going to point to the reviews and comments in question, because it’s not my intention to call anyone out, especially not a random anonymous person on the internet. Suffice it to say that the outlets in question are entertainment-like blogs that usually address their subject matter with a certain level of intelligence. And it was not so much the content but the general tone, repeated again and again, that bothered me. Something like this:
“I thought about checking these books out, but…Young Adult? Really? I think that’s a bit simplistic/tame/childish for my tastes.”*
“Eh. A love triangle? Sounds a bit Twilight-y in my opinion.”**
Head, meet desk. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
And here we insert the obligatory xkcd link, because I know exactly what I’m doing when I get mad at people on the internet and yet I can’t stop myself from reading more.
It just angers me, not because these people look down on YA, but because they’re missing out because they look down on YA. When you dismiss an entire genre, you close yourself off from shelves and shelves at the bookstore, all because you won’t consider that your assumptions might be wrong.
Let me help you out a little bit with a few examples:
“Simplistic”: In John Green’s Paper Towns, the protagonist learns how we can never truly know people, and how, quite frequently, our opinions of them are colored and shaped by our own experiences–and what we want them to be, rather than what they are. Also? Funny as hell.
Simplistic? What now?
“Tame”: The entire Hunger Games trilogy is a good example of not-tame. It’s bloody, breathtaking, and wrenching. Need another example? The Gone series by Michael Grant. These books had several moments that made me wince or gasp in horror, shock, OMG-did-that-just-happen. And I’m a grown-up.
“Childish”: An older example, but the best I can think of–the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld. This one takes on societal perceptions and expectations of beauty and conformity, with a little environmentalism thrown in the background.
Childish? No. No matter how old you are, when you look in the mirror, you see what society tells you is pretty or ugly or fat or skinny. You have to look beyond all that to see yourself. And that’s damn hard sometimes.
All of these examples are from different subgenres within YA. From introspective (and yet hilarious) fiction, to gut-wrenchingly horrific but thrilling, to a piercing look at a troubling societal issue. These books address an incredibly wide-ranging set of issues that affects us all, child or adult. And they do it entertainingly. And they do it without talking down to their audience.
I guess what really bothers me is that, in the dismissive tone of so many, we’re not just putting down an entire section of the bookstore. We’re also insulting teenagers. We’re saying that depictions of their lives aren’t as important as anything involving adults. Yeah, there’s drama and angst. Maybe a bit more than in our lives. But there’s also figuring out who you are, what you’re capable of, and where you belong in the world. I know people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, etc. who don’t have that down yet. I don’t have that down yet.
YA is becoming more and more popular among adults, so I have little to complain about, really. It’s gaining respect. It’ll never have everyone’s respect–no genre ever will. Some people absolutely need something or someone to look down on.
All I ask is this: if you haven’t yet, wander into the YA section on your next trip to the bookstore. Take a look at the incredibly diverse reading material there. And think about when you were a teenager, no matter how long ago that was.
Do already read YA, or have you tried and found it not to your liking? Wander into another foreign area of the bookstore. Pick up something new.
This life is too short to limit our experiences, and that includes reading. So check out something new, something different from your usual.
Give it a shot. I promise, you won’t regret it.
*These same people would have been FURIOUS if, at the ages of 13-18, anyone had called their reading material childish or simplistic. Oh, how quickly we grow from the sneered-at to the…sneerers? Something like that.
**OMG, you guys! So there’s this series called Twilight, and it totally has a love triangle! Not only is it the only YA book in existence and thus everything must be compared to it, but also: love triangle! THIS HAS NEVER BEEN DONE IN ALL OF HISTORY, YOU GUYS.